Breast Implants: Considerations and Understanding the Risks

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The decision to get breast implant surgery is one that can be life-changing in a positive way for so many. However, it's a decision that shouldn't be made lightly. Every individual's situation is different, as are their reasons for undergoing this procedure, so of course there are specific considerations and risks to know about. And by fully understanding your risks ahead of time, you'll be thoroughly equipped with the information needed to make the best decision for yourself.

To learn more, we tapped the expertise of Dr. Jessica Thompson, Breast Surgical Oncologist with Corewell Health West Comprehensive Breast Center.

Dr. Thompson shares certain factors that can increase one's susceptibility to risks associated with breast implants, including those with pre-existing medical conditions and/or autoimmune conditions, in addition to those who use tobacco. She emphasizes that individuals who may be contemplating breast implants should be aware of the various potential risks, some of which can present themselves right away or several years after implant placement.

"Early complications related to breast implant surgery include infection, hematoma, wound separation, thickened scarring, pain and temporary or permanent altered sensation," Dr. Thompson said. "Complications that may develop months to years following implant placement include implant deflation or rupture, capsule contracture, displacement, asymmetrical appearance, contour irregularities and emotional distress."

And while Dr. Thompson acknowledges that breast implant illness is not an official clinical diagnosis, it's still serious.

"[Breast implant illness] is a condition characterized by the manifestation of wide-ranging symptoms, such as fatigue, cognitive impairment, musculoskeletal pain, headache and rash," she said. "In certain circumstances, future surgeries may be indicated for maintenance, replacement or removal of breast implants."

There are a number of additional factors individuals should consider before making the decision to move forward with implants, including that the appearance of augmented or reconstructed breasts may be affected by weight changes, pregnancy and menopause.

"Individuals with silicone-filled implants are subject to asymptomatic implant rupture, therefore the FDA recommends screening with either MRI or ultrasound examination within five to six years following placement and every two to three years thereafter," Dr. Thompson said, noting these imaging studies are performed separately from screening mammograms for breast cancer detection.

According to Dr. Thompson, cancer development related to breast implants is a topic of ongoing research and medical discussion. Just last fall, the FDA shared that in rare cases, certain cancers may develop in the capsules surrounding breast implants.

"There have been a number of cases of breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), a rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, linked to breast implants," Dr. Thompson said, explaining that BIA-ALCL is not a breast cancer, but rather a malignancy of the immune system that develops in the scar tissue (capsule) or fluid that forms around the implant.

"The risk of BIA-ALCL is higher in those with textured-surfaced implants compared to smooth surfaces, presumably related to increased inflammation," she explained. "Additionally, the FDA is investigating a possible association between breast implants and the development of squamous cell carcinoma and lymphomas other than BIA-ALCL, however there are very few reported cases documented."

Overall, Dr. Thompson says the risk of cancer related directly to breast implants appears to be low at this time, however, she notes it's important to promptly report new breast and/or implant-related changes to your healthcare professional.

Of course, for questions and insight relating to your own personal health and questions related to breast implants, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov issue of West Michigan Woman.


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