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Are Breast Implants Linked to Rare Cancer?

Dutch scientists have uncovered a link between breast implants and a rare cancer, anaplastic large-cell lymphoma of the breast. This deserves further scrutiny.

A small study from the Netherlands published in JAMA Oncology raises concerns about a connection between breast implants and a rare cancer, anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (de Boer et al, JAMA Oncology, online January 4, 2018).

How Did Scientists Find This Link?

Investigators combed through data from the Dutch cancer registry. They found 43 cases of women with anaplastic large-cell lymphoma in their breasts. A surprisingly high proportion (32) of the women had had breast implants, suggesting a strong association.

Under normal circumstances, older men are more commonly affected by this aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This rare cancer shows up elsewhere in the body, not primarily in the breast. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in the number of women affected by this unusual type of lymphoma.

How Often Does This Rare Cancer Occur?

This type of cancer is so uncommon that the absolute risk remains extremely low. The scientists estimate about 29 cases per million women with implants at age 50. Nevertheless, the relative risk is very high: 421 times the risk for women without implants.

Macrotextured implants seemed riskier than smooth-shelled implants. In summary, this research should not cause alarm, but it does raise concerns about the long-term safety of breast implants.

The researchers conclude:

Our results emphasize the need for increased awareness among the public, medical professionals, and regulatory bodies, promotion of alternative cosmetic procedures, and alertness to signs and symptoms of breast-ALCL in women with implants.”

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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