Understanding the Risks
- Marie Bloom, 50, battled breast cancer ten years ago. After having a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she went into remission.
- In December, she noticed swelling around her breast implants and visited the doctor. Her doctors initially instructed her to take antihistamines, but after more testing, she was diagnosed with cancer for a second time.
- Bloom has a rare form of lymphoma known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma. She has dedicated herself to spreading information about the cancer risk of implants.
Bloom, from Droylsden outside Manchester, England, was first diagnosed with breast cancer about ten years ago. After having a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she went into remission. In December, Bloom was just getting geared up to move to Dubai when her plans were interrupted. She noticed that she was swollen near her breast implants which she’d had for several years.Read More
After a sequence of tests, Bloom was delivered the shocking news that she had cancer again. This time, it was a rare form of lymphoma known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ACL) that has been associated with breast implants in women.
The Food and Drug Administration has found a possible association between breast implants and ACL, which is a cancer of the immune system. As a result of this possible link, the condition is now known as “breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).” The FDA believes that women with so-called “textured breast implants” (implants that have a textured surface) have a very low but increased risk of developing BIA-ALCL.
Despite the FDA’s findings, however, and the popularization of the term “breast implant-associated lymphoma,” a definitive causal link between breast implants and cancer has not yet been proven.
Bloom found herself turning online for information and support. “The doctors and nurses didn’t really know much about the condition because it’s so rare. I have done a lot of my own research and found support groups,” Bloom said.
Bloom is scheduled for an operation to remove her breast implants but she cannot be sure that will solve the problem. Scans will help doctors determine whether or not the cancer cells have spread through her body.
The mother of three wishes she had been better informed about the risks of developing cancer in response to the breast implants inside her. “You are told the risks but it was more about infection,” she told The Manchester Evening News. “To the best of my memory I can never remember being told about BIA-ALCL.”
Due to her cancer, she knows that she would have made a different breast implants choice: “Of course I would have never had the implants if I had known they could cause cancer. I don’t think anyone would take that risk.” Now, she is using her story to spread awareness about the risk of breast implants for people with and without cancer.
BIA-ALCL: What’s the Risk?
In 2020, the FDA requested a recall of certain textured breast implants. Many women with breast implants were left wondering what their risk was and what would come next.
In an interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Niamey Pender Wilson, director of Breast Surgery Quality & Research at Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, reassured women with breast implants that there was no reason for panic. “The true risk of developing [BIA-ALCL] is extremely low,” she said.
According to Dr. Wilson, when the cancer does develop, it is “extremely treatable.” Dr. Wilson discouraged women with no symptoms from getting their breast implants removed as a preventative measure. “So rather than having thousands and thousands of women undergoing a procedure that is not really necessary, it seems reasonable to monitor and see how someone is doing clinically. If they appear to be having a problem –the symptoms of ALCL are pretty obvious — then it should be removed expeditiously.”
The Importance of Advocating for Yourself
When it comes to cancer, having the courage to speak up and advocate for your treatment can be life-saving. It is important to trust your instincts when you think something is wrong with your body, and to consult other doctors if you think your concerns aren’t being taken seriously.
Different doctors may have different perspectives, resources, information, and biases. Cancer patients should always try to get more than one analysis of their condition and compare the information they receive. “If I had any advice for you following a cancer diagnosis, it would be, first, to seek out multiple opinions as to the best care,” National Cancer Institute Chief of Surgery Steven Rosenberg told us in a previous interview. “Because finding a doctor who is up to the latest of information is important.”
Highly respected doctors sometimes disagree on the right course of treatment, and advances in genetics and immunotherapy are creating new options. Also, in some instances the specific course of treatment is not clear cut. That’s even more reason why advocating for yourself and understanding the potential approaches to your disease is crucial.
Furthermore, getting another opinion may also help you avoid doctor biases. For example, some surgeons own radiation treatment centers. “So there may be a conflict of interest if you present to a surgeon that is recommending radiation because there is some ownership of that type of facility,” Dr. Jim Hu, director of robotic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet.
Bottom line, being proactive about your health — including about looking for breast implant induced cancer or others cancers — could be a matter of life or death. Learn as much as you can from as many experts as you can, so that you know that you did your best to take control of your health.
Contributing: Abigail Seaberg