Small Study Finds Link Between Breast Implants and Lymphoma

Researchers hope the investigation will raise awareness among physicians and women considering the procedure.

From Botox injections and chemical peels to liposuction and facelifts, cosmetic procedures have become increasingly common. In fact, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that more than 15.6 million such procedures were performed in 2014 alone. Now, a new study is raising safety concerns about the most common cosmetic surgery of all: breast augmentation.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and other institutions found a correlation between breast implants and the development of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare type of cancer. After analyzing nearly 200 cases in which implant recipients developed the condition within months or years after their surgery. Some of the cases were sourced from previously published papers, while others were collected with the help of an international community of physicians and pathologists.

The study was published in March in the journal, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Melissa Lechner, a resident at BWH and one of the study’s authors, says that a common thread in all the examined cases was the use of textured-surface implants, which yield more aesthetic results. Though they don’t entirely understand the connection, she says she and her fellow researchers believe that the “texturization” of the implant may have contributed to the development of inflammation, which then progressed to cancer.

Lechner’s isn’t the only study to explore the link between breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma. The FDA, for example, released a report in 2013 on the suspected correlation. Despite these findings, Lechner says it’s important to recognize that the increased cancer risk is low and has only been observed in a small subset of women.

“In general, implants remain very safe, but clinicians who see fluid formation around an implant or patients who are noting changes in their implant should think of this entity,” she says, adding that early detection can lead to better outcomes.

By raising awareness among physicians and women who are considering this specific cosmetic surgery, Lechner and her collaborators hope to improve survival and long-term health for affected patients. She says she also hopes that the study will inform future investigations on developing new treatments and therapies for this kind of cancer.

“We now know a lot and can make some suggestions for treatment based on what we’ve learned about the biology of these cases,” Lechner says. “[Although] this is certainly new and does remain very rare in the context of the many millions of women who have implants, I think [the study] provides a frame of reference for physicians who do encounter this clinically.”