Breast Implants and Cancer: The 0.000003% Risk of ALCL

mellieb on 27 Jan 2011 at 1:45pm

Yesterday the FDA announced a link between breast implants and a rare type of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma. The cancer is located in the scar tissue surrounding the implant, but not the breast tissue itself.

While the announcement set the media world afire, the overall risk of getting this type of cancer is quite low. The FDA reports: "If you have breast implants, there is no need to change your routine medical care and follow-up. ALCL is very rare; it has occurred in only a very small number of the millions of women who have breast implants."

Doctors in the RealSelf community have suggested a few ways to quantify this risk:

  • Dr. C. Bob Basu, a Houston-based plastic surgeon notes, “Since 1989, only 34 cases of ALCL have been identified out of the estimated 10 million+ implants placed worldwide. So essentially, the chances of getting struck by lightning are more than getting this condition.”
  •  William A. Wallace, an MD from Jacksonville states, “I can't say that there isn't a correlation, but it would appear that this is a very VERY rare phenomenon. In mathematical terms: 34 women with ALCL out of 10,000,000 women with breast implants. This equates to a 0.000003% of developing ALCL as a result of having breast implants (if there is an association).”

This study is likely to be closely looked at in the coming months, and the FDA is working with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to track the number of women with breast implants who have this rare form of cancer. While this may give some women pause, few anticipate the demand in breast enhancement surgery to change in the near term.