Breast implants do not appear to increase the risk of breast cancer. Signs of breast cancer with implants can include lumps, breast pain, and uneven breasts.

While breast implants may not increase the risk of breast cancer, they may have associations with other cancers, such as breast implant-assocaited anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), other lymphomas, and squamous cell carcinoma.

This article looks at the link between breast implants and cancer and how to check for signs or symptoms of cancer in the breast.

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There is little evidence to suggest that breast implants cause breast cancer. However, breast implants may increase the risk of other cancers.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified an association between breast implants and an increased risk of BIA-ALCL.

BIA-ALCL is a rare subtype of non-Hodgkins lymphoma which forms in the scar tissue around breast implants. It is a cancer of the immune system rather than breast tissue. Textured breast implants have a higher risk of causing BIA-ALCL than breast implants with a smooth surface.

In 2022, the FDA issued a statement about reports of other cancers forming in the scar tissue around breast implants, which includes other types of lymphomas and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

A person’s risk of developing BIA-ALCL is low.

According to a 2020 study, reports of BIA-ALCL incidence rates vary from 1 in 355 people to 1 in 30,000 people. The study looked at 9,373 people who had breast reconstruction over 26 years.

Researchers found the incidence of BIA-ALCL was 1.79 in 1,000 people with textured implants, which is the same as 1 in 559 people. The average time of diagnosis was 10.3 years after implant placement.

BIA-ALCL risk may increase over time, particularly in people who have textured implants for more than 10 years.

The FDA states that the risk of SCC and lymphoma forming around breast implants is also rare. The current incidence rate and risk is unknown.

The FDA has only received reports of less than 20 SCC cases and less than 30 cases of lymphomas other than BIA-ALCL in the scar tissue around breast implants.

Symptoms of BIA-ALCL may include:

  • a lump or swelling near the breast implant
  • breast pain
  • uneven breasts
  • collection of fluid in the breast

Symptoms of BIA-ALCL may develop several years after the initial placement of breast implants.

Symptoms of other lymphomas and SCC may include:

  • lumps or swelling
  • pain
  • unusual skin changes in breast

If a person has breast implants, certain steps may help them to monitor breast health. These can include:

  • keeping a record of the manufacturer and model name of the implants people receive, or ask for a patient device card from the surgeon
  • attending any routine check-ups
  • checking the breasts for any unusual signs or symptoms once a month
  • reporting any unusual symptoms, including pain, swelling, lumps, or skin changes, to a doctor as soon as possible
  • being aware that symptoms may develop years after implant surgery

Unless people have had a bilateral mastectomy, the American Cancer Society recommends that people with breast implants still follow screening guidelines.

Screening guidelines

The ACS sets out the following guidelines for those with an average risk of breast cancer:

  • the option to begin yearly screening for those aged 40–44
  • yearly screening for those aged 45–54
  • screening every other year for those aged 55 and older

People with implants can check their breasts for signs of cancer in the same way that people without implants can check their breasts.

People will need to know their new “normal” after having breast implants, so they can be aware of any unusual changes. After implant placement, people can note things like new scar tissue, sensitivity, and firmness.

People with implants can check their breasts once a month by:

  • looking in the mirror to see how their breasts normally look
  • feel all of the breast tissue, which includes under the armpits and up to the collarbone
  • check whilst in different positions, such as standing up or lying down

Breast changes can be due to a variety of causes. However, it is important to contact a doctor about any unusual changes or symptoms.

Find a visual guide on how to check for breast cancer here.

There is no evidence to suggest that breast implants cause breast cancer. In rare cases, however, implants may cause some types of lymphoma, including BIA-ALCL and squamous cell carcinoma.

These cancers are not breast cancer, as they do not start in breast tissue. Instead, they may form in the scar tissue around breast implants.

Signs of breast implant-associated cancers include lumps, pain, or swelling near the implant. People may also have unusual skin changes in the breast.

Regular self-checking and attending any recommended check-ups or screenings can help people to monitor their breast health with implants.