Dr. William Maisel, chief scientist and deputy director for science in the agencies Center for Devices and Radiological Health, a department within the FDA, recently announced (see references) that the FDA believes that some women get a certain kind of cancer (anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, which involves the immune system) from having breast implants. Maisel pointed out also that though it is a kind of cancer and it does occur around or even in the breast, it is not breast cancer.
Anaplastic large-cell lymphoma is considered to be a relatively easy form of cancer to treat; for most people surgical removal usually does the trick; most being the key word. Some women do require chemotherapy and other treatments.
It appears the cancer cells form in the areas where scar tissue comes into contact with the implants, whether silicon or saline, and that it occurs very rarely, with only 60 cases having been reported worldwide among the millions of women with implants.
It is this comparatively inconsequential number though that is at the heart of what is a routine debate among the medical community. How much is too much before measures need to be taken to either alert the public, or ban a product from being used.
Clearly this is not an issue that is confined to breast implants, as almost any kind of surgical implant can pose health hazards, as can many medications and other forms of treatment, such as say, surgery, where even today, there are still many people that never wake up after being an anesthetic, for example.
In the past, lawmakers and public officials have taken the position that if a product is going to be allowed to continue to be used, patients should be warned and advised of the risks they are taking; and this approach generally applies whether the medical procedure or drug is for a true medical necessity or for more cosmetic reasons. But this doesn’t necessarily happen all the time. In the case of the cancer caused by breast implants, for example, unless women happen to hear about it through mainstream media, they aren’t likely to know the possibility exists unless their doctor keeps up with the literature and discovers it for him or herself and then passes that information along.
As for recommendations for doctors and patients on how they should proceed regarding breast implants, Dr. Maisel says there isn’t yet enough data for him to make a recommendation he’d be comfortable in giving; which means, at least for now, doctors and patients are left to their own devices.