Higher Rates of Lung, Brain Cancers In Patients With Breast Implants

Oncology Spectrums, June 2001
By Jessica Wapner

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) report that women with breast implants appear to have higher rates of lung and brain cancers compared to other plastic surgery patients. Results of the study are published in Epidemiology and Annals of Epidemiology.

Dr. Louise A. Brinton, chief of the NCI’s environmental epidemiology branch, and colleagues tracked 13,500 women with breast implants for an average of 13 years. The control group consisted of 4,000 patients with other types of plastic surgery and the general population. The analysis, based on questionnaires completed by 7,500 women, medical records, and, in some cases, death certificates, focused on a comparison between the breast implant patients and other plastic surgery patients. The average age of patients receiving the implants was 34. Implant type, whether silicone (removed from the market by the FDA in 1992) or saline, showed no difference in cancer risk.

According to the report, women with breast implants were three times as likely to die of respiratory tract diseases, mainly lung cancer, and twice as likely to die of brain cancer, than the women of other types of plastic surgery. An analysis of the number of malignancies also found higher rates of these cancers in women with breast implants.

While the studies are inconclusive and demonstrate only a link, rather than a cause-and-effect relationship, between breast implants and these types of cancer, the results are likely to provoke intense study of the safety of this type of surgery.

“I see this as a warning,” says Dr. Diana Zuckerman, director of the National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families, and member of the scientific advisory board for the study.

Dr. Brinton notes that smoking could not be ruled out as a cause of lung cancer in these women, as most of the information on lung cancer was derived from death certificates and smoking habits could not be tracked. The researchers could find no likely explanation for the higher rates of brain cancer, and note that further research is needed.