Breast Implants Safe with History of Breast Cancer?

A sister had breast cancer a number of years ago. She's thankfully clear now, but needless to say there is a history of breast cancer in my family. A person has been thinking about getting breast implants, but am concerned about how safe that would be. They haven't had the BRCA gene testing, and don't think they will. But do breast implants affect mammograms or self-exams? Are there any safety concerns they should be aware of?

Doctor Answers 21

Probably safe

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Breast implants don't cause cancer. This almost everybody would agree on.

The question remains: is detection of breast cancer harder with a breast implant in place? No doubt a certain percentage of the breast tissue can't be visualized as well, maybe 10% or so. Behind the muscle placement allows more accurate mammograms than in front of the muscle. But self examination may be easier when an implant is in place. I have two patients in my practice who palpated very small lumps (their mammograms were negative) after they received breast implants (both are fine now thanks to early detection). When you look at all women with breast implants, there is no greater mortality due to breast cancer than in women with no breast implants.

So probably safe.

Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 194 reviews

Breast Implants do not cause cancer!

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Your chances of getting breast cancer are greater than 1 in 6 with a sister with breast cancer. Breast implants will have no influence on this risk. In all women the risk is 1 in 7.

You should maintain routine screening recommendations with self exams and mammograms as indicated. You may require additional views with breast implants if the radiologist has some concerns. Also be sure your mammographer has experience in women with breast implants. Most do. Good luck.

No evidence exists that breast implants cause cancer

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This is a very common question among women considering breast augmentation, in particular if they have a family history of breast cancer. The bottom line is that there is no evidence that breast implants cause breast cancer, and in fact there is at least one study that shows that women who have breast augmentation tend to find breast cancers at earlier, more treatable stages versus women who do not, most likely because they are more aware of the way their breasts feel "normally" and so can detect any small changes or lumps quite easily.

The other issue is if implants affect imaging studies, such as mammograms. There are some studies that suggest that the implant can obsure a small portion of the breast, but this is usually accounted for by letting the imaging center know that you do have breast implants, so that they can make the appropriate adjustments. Breast MRIs, which are becoming more and more common, can see the entire breast very well in the event that a more detailed study is needed.

But the real question is what your particular comfort level is with having breast implants. I would recommend setting up a consult with a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in your area so that you can have all of your questions answered and the pros and cons reviewed. Some women who have a strong family history may even consider having an imaging study of their breasts in advance of the augmentation in order to both get a sense of their normal baseline exam before surgery as well as to perhaps relieve any concerns about the health of their breasts.

In the end, it is your health and happiness that are the number one concern. Take your time, speak face to face to a surgeon you trust, and make the decision that works best for you.

Dr. S

Shahram Salemy, MD, FACS
Seattle Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 155 reviews

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Breast Implants OK With Family Cancer History

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Of course, careful self exam and routine monitoring with your physicians and mammography will be very important.

Thankfully, breast implants placed behind the muscle should not pose a risk or obstacle to proper monitoring and examination.

Paul C. Zwiebel, MD
Denver Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 45 reviews

Breast implants don't cause cancer

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Breast implants don't cause cancer.

Surveillance of your breast for cancer differs when breast implants are placed.

Mammography may be more difficult, but you can get a technique designed for patients with implants called distraction mammogram. This technique may improve the amount of breast tissue visualized.

Ultrasound and MRI breast exams are not affected by breast implants.

Self breast exam is improved with implants,because it creates a smooth surface behind the breast tissue for better examination.

Robert M. Freund, MD
New York Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 34 reviews

Breast implants have not been shown to cause cancer

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In many studies from across the world, there has never been shown a link between having breast implants and an increased chance of developing breast cancer.

Breast implants may affect the ability to fully image the breast on mammography and could make self breast exam more challenging. This question is probably best answered by your surgeon who can examine you. In some instances it may depend on the amount and characteristics of the existing breast tissue.

Relative to safety concerns, anytime a surgery is done using a device, whether it be a heart valve, knee prosthesis or breast implant the risks of the surgery probably increase very slightly. It is useful to think in terms of "trade-offs". There are (at least not yet) no perfect medical devices. The trade-off for a patient requiring a knee replacement may be diminished pain and increased function, along with the slight risk of surgery, infection and need for replacement when the device fails.

For a patient considering breast augmentation there may be similar trade-offs. Your surgeon after taking your medical history, doing an appropriate exam and reviewing your goals should be able to advise you for your unique situation.

John E. Gross, MD
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon

Myth: Breast Implants cause breast cancer

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Fact: There is absolutely NO evidence anywhere that breast implants cause breast cancer. If fact, the studies that have been performed in women with breast implants show that women with implants have a lower incidence of breast cancer. This fact is probably not because implants protect against breast cancer, but because we screen out patients with risks for breast cancer and therefore the higher risk patients do not get implants for the most part.

The decision to have breast implant surgery with a family history of breast cancer is, of course, a very personal decision and should be made only after a full consultation with a board certified plastic surgeon.

Breast implants certainly have some effect on the mammagram and on self breast exams. Implants do cause some compression of the breast tissue, increasing its density and possibly making it more difficult for the mammographic xrays to penetrate. Mammography has become so specialized and advanced today that most mammographers have special techniques that enable them to visualize breast tissue just as effectively with implants as without them.

The issue of breast self exams is less clear. Some feel that the projection of the breast tissue that occurs with implants behind them affords more accurate self examination. At any rate, regarding both of these issues, there is no evidence, to my knowledge, that breast cancer detection is delayed in patients with breast implants.

Breast implants don't cause cancer

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Many studies over the years have evaluated the issues you raise. If you have lumpy breasts or ones that are difficult to evaluate on a mammogram you might consider not having implants. In addition, patients who have a very significant family history of breast cancer even without testing positive for the gene should consider avoiding breast implant surgery.

Studies have shown that breast cancer can be detected with implants and that it is not found at a later stage because of the implant. Also, because of implant massage daily, some patients find lumps earlier because they so breast aware. Implants do not cause cancer either.

In addition, having performed an enormous number of breast reconstructions after cancer, there are occasional patients who need an implant to match the reconstructed breast. I always sent these patients back to their oncologists for approval. Recall that these people are at an even higher risk of cancer in the remaining breast than the general population. Never did the oncologists deny the patient's request for approval of the implant under the remaining breast.

Always have your mammograms done at a high quality facility and have them every year!

Breast cancer detection

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Implants can interfere with a mammogram. The new digital mammograms are better than the older style mammograms. If the radiologist can not fully visualize your breast they may need to go to a MRI or ultrasound. One thing to know is that there is not an increased risk of the late detection of breast cancer due to implants.  If there is any question your general surgeon should be consulted prior to considering implant surgery.  

Jeffrey Zwiren, MD
Atlanta Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 20 reviews

Breast implants safe with history of breast cancer?

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Hello!  Thank you for your question!  This a great question, which is often asked by patients.  The answer is no - there is no link to breast implants, either saline or silicone, and cancer.  All supporting literature has demonstrated this fact and no association with cancer, autoimmune disorders, or autoinflammatory disorders.  

It is known that women are more in tune with their breasts and more diligent with examination and feeling/knowing the contour of her breasts, thus able to identify any abnormality sooner.  Imaging studies of the breasts are similar to imaging without breast implants and cancers are not hidden either by the presence of breast implants.  You should remain proactive with your monthly self examination, annual clinical examination, and mammograms beginning at age 40 (unless family history, as directed by the Radiological Society).  A preoperative mammogram may be beneficial to get a baseline prior to consideration for a surgical procedure on your breast, given your sister's history.  Best wishes!  Hope that this helps!

Lewis Albert Andres, MD
Scottsdale Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 28 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.