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The Controversial Surgery That May Increase Breast Cancer Risk

When women and oncologists examine the risks of breast cancer, many factors, such as age and genetics, come to mind. Breast implants may not always enter into the conversation, however. Conflicting studies have yet to determine whether breast implants can affect breast cancer.

Canadian Study

Researchers in Canada examined 17 studies regarding women with breast implants. Doctors found that women with cosmetic breast implants have a 25 percent higher risk of a breast cancer diagnosis later in life. Women with cosmetic implants showed a 38 percent increased risk of death from breast cancer as compared to women who don't have implants.

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Why the Risks?

The reasons for these increased risks involve the detection methods. Some studies suggest breast implants may hide early stage cancerous tissue from mammograms, which may make breast cancer harder to diagnose. Implants may cast shadows on the images, and breast cancer tissue may hide deep in the existing breast tissue. However, a conflicting study in 2009 from the University of Texas suggests breast implants may make mammogram images clearer.

ALCL

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration believes an association exists between breast implants and higher cases of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or ALCL. This very rare type of cancer attacks the immune system, and it may originate from breast cancer tissue. The FDA isn't sure why, but women with breast implants have a slightly higher risk of developing ALCL compared to the risk of women who don't have implants.

Approximately one in 500,000 American women get ALCL every year, while three out of every 100 million women in the United States see ALCL in the breast. Worldwide, between 5 and 10 million women have breast implants, and only 60 cases of ALCL have come from women who have breast implants.

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Bottom Line

The bottom line is that the risks associated with breast implants are not proven. Some research suggests a link, but other studies do not. Physicians at the University of Texas say breast implants are safe for women worried about developing breast cancer. However, women should get a mammogram one year before the implants and one year afterward. The imaging after the surgery serves as the baseline for mammograms moving forward. Women should also perform regular screenings for breast cancer regardless of whether they have implants or not.

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