October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month—an appropriate time to reflect on the health risks that all women face, and to reiterate some important points about keeping this risk as minimal as possible. Here at Charlotte Plastic Surgery, we have many opportunities to talk with women about breast health, particularly as they come meet with us about breast augmentation. As top breast plastic surgeons, we mostly chat with women about cosmetic issues—yet it’s of the utmost importance to us to ensure that our patients are as safe as can be at all times.
To that end, we often talk with our patients about the link between cancer and breast augmentation. You can find some frightening headlines out there that suggest implants can increase the risk of breast cancer, but is there any truth to those reports?
In this post, we’re going to break things down into a few important subtopics.
Will Having Breast Implants Affect My Ability to Properly Detect Breast Cancer?
We’ll start with a query we get from a lot of our patients: To what extent do breast implants thwart proper cancer detection?
To date, no scientific research lends any credence to the notion that implants make breast cancer harder to detect. In fact, the opposite may be true! One recent study by top breast plastic surgeons found that those with breast implants may detect the signs of cancer at an even earlier stage.
“At diagnosis, the cancers were significantly smaller in women with breast implants: average size 1.4 centimeter, compared to 1.9 centimeter in women without implants,” the study finds. To be clear, we’re not suggesting anyone get implants for the purpose of earlier cancer detection; all we’re saying is that there’s no evidence to support the idea that getting breast augmentation will make it more difficult to detect cancer.
Do Breast Implants Cause Cancer?
An even more pointed question: Can breast augmentation actually trigger, or increase the likelihood of breast cancer?
There has never been a study that has shown that breast implants cause breast cancer. However, there has been evidence of ALCL (anaplastic large cell lymphoma – entirely unrelated to breast cancer) occurring in an extremely small group of women with textured implants. Thankfully, these incidents are quite rare and entirely treatable.
Given that most women choose smooth, round implants, this isn’t a risk that our patients typically have to worry about. And even for that subset of women who do choose textured implants, early detection ensures that the condition is easily cured.
“Researchers don’t know, definitively, why ALCL is associated with textured implants,” one report says. “Some of the top breast plastic surgeons theorize that the rough surface of a textured implant may trigger an immune system response that spurs the disease. Others point to infections around the implant as possible culprits.” Again, the data underscores that occurrence of this condition is extremely uncommon.
Does Having Implants Change the Way I Care for My Breasts?
Another important topic: The connection between breast augmentation and self-care.
According to top breast plastic surgeons, the short answer to the question is yes, getting implants does change the way you care for your breasts. When a patient has breast implants, they will have additional breast studies done. For example, in addition to their regular self-exams and potential breast exams with their OBGYN, they will need to revisit their plastic surgeon every few years to rule out any indications of rupture or capsular contracture. Also, when receiving mammograms patients will have additional displacement views called Eklund views where the implant is moved back.
It’s important to note that these additional screenings aren’t because the risk of breast cancer is higher, but just because, with any surgical procedure—including breast augmentation—regular follow-up with a doctor is prudent. Actually, having additional examinations can be a hidden benefit of breast augmentation, as it ensures more consistent care and increases the odds that, if cancer is present, it is detected early.
There are some practical considerations for women with breast implants. For example, when scheduling a routine mammogram, it’s wise to let your doctor know that you have implants and to ensure you have a technologist who has experience performing mammograms for women with implants. Remind them that you have implants when you arrive for your appointment.
Implants can make it a little harder for doctors to get the images they need, which means that women with implants may get a few extra pictures taken (usually two additional pictures of each breast).
One final note about mammograms: Some women have asked our top breast plastic surgeons if mammograms can cause breast implants to rupture. In previous generations, there was a small risk of this; thanks to advances in implant technology, it’s not much of a concern anymore.
What’s the Best Way to Minimize Risk from Breast Augmentation?
Finally, what steps can patients take to ensure that they minimize the already-minute risks associated with breast implants?
Our foremost advice is to be certain that you are working with top breast plastic surgeons, like the ones here at Charlotte Plastic Surgery. Seek medical professionals who will spend plenty of time in consultation with you, not just helping you pick the right implants but ensuring you are a good, healthy candidate for the procedure.
Additionally, make sure you are up-front with your plastic surgeon about any questions or concerns you have. Your surgeon will go over the breast care steps you will need to take, but you should also come with any specific inquiries you might have. Again, our providers want to ensure your safety above all else, and that means spending time talking with you about how implants affect your overall health.
Charlotte Plastic Surgery has provided breast lifts and breast augmentation for decades, and we’re proud of our reputation for excellence. We want to encourage all our patients to pause and think about their own well being during this Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And, if you have specific questions about cancer and its connection to breast implants, reach out to our top breast plastic surgeons at your next convenience.
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