Rita Ruben, Forbes
The Food and Drug Administration has received nine reports of women dying of a rare blood cancer years after getting breast implants, according to information the agency released Tuesday.
The FDA says it now agrees with the World Health Organization that such cases are linked to the breast implants and not some unfortunate coincidence. As of Feb. 1, the FDA says, it had received a total of 359 reports of breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
The FDA reports suggest that implants with a textured surface are more likely to be associated with the cancer than smooth implants—of the 231 reports that contained information about the implant’s surface, 203 were reported to be textured implants, while 28 were reported to be smooth. The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) analyzed 46 confirmed cases of BIA-ALCL, including three deaths, and none of the cases occurred in women with smooth implants.
BIA-ALCL on average is diagnosed about a decade after implant surgery, according to the WHO. The first reported case of a woman with breast implants developing ALCL was published in a 1997 letter to the journal Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. While that case was a woman with saline-filled implants, the FDA says the filling, be it saline (salt water) or silicone, doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, although no well-designed studies have yet been conducted to settle that issue.
BIA-ALCL is rare, but just how rare isn’t clear. As the FDA notes, it medical device reports can’t answer that question, because they don’t represent all cases, and the denominator—the total number of women who’ve received breast implants—isn’t known.
ALCL is more common in the breasts of women who’ve had implants than in those who don’t have implants, in whom the cancer almost never develops in the breast. A U.S. studypublished in January concluded that over their lifetime, 3.3 women out of every 100,000 with textured breast implants will develop BIA-ALCL. But the TGA estimates that the disease is more common, affecting 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 1,000 women with breast implants (that agency says it has received no reports of BIA-ALCL in women with smooth implants).
“There is no reason to think it is less likely to develop in women in the U.S., and given the dramatic increase in diagnoses in recent years, it is clear that it was under-diagnosed and under-reported for many years,” Diana Zuckerman, a health advocate who has long questioned the safety of breast implants, told me. Zuckerman serves as president of both the National Center for Health Research and the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund, nonprofits based in Washington, D.C.
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