Womens Health

Breast Augmentation & Breast Cancer – Is There a Link?

Since breast implants came onto the plastic surgery market in the early 1960s, nearly 2 million American women have had breast augmentation surgery performed. However, beginning in the 1990s, researchers began studying the possible long-term heath risks associated with breast augmentation. The studies have sparked serious concern over a potential link between breast cancer and breast implants.

So is there any validity to this concern? According to recent studies, the answer is a cautious "no" – but that doesn’t mean the course it totally clear on breast augmentation surgery. Read on to find out what health risks women undergoing breast enhancement plastic surgery are taking.


Silicone Breast Implants

When deciding on breast implants, there are more choices to be made than simply choosing the plastic surgeon, or the hospital in which the surgery will take place. In addition, patients must decide what type of implant they would like to have. The primary choices are silicone, saline and lumen-filled implants.

The former has come under much scrutiny over the past decade or so, as a growing body of research indicated the possibility of a link between silicone implants and breast cancer. In fact, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) was forced to ban the substance in the 1990s due to growing safety concerns.

However, in November of 2006, the FDA re-approved the use of silicone gel-filled breast implants, stating that after rigorous scientific review they had not observed any conclusive link between the implants and breast cancer. However, the FDA requires companies that manufacture silicone implants under-go post-approval studies to monitor any long-term health risks associated with the implants.


The Research: Breast Cancer Causes & Breast Augmentation

Most of the research that has been conducted in the realm of breast cancer risks and breast augmentation has yielded conclusions that are inconclusive. However, a number of more recent studies have drawn a much more surprising conclusion; namely, that having breast implants actually lessens the risk of developing breast cancer. Of course, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) warns that such studies lack enough evidence to be conclusive.

The NCI itself very recently performed an important study designed to provide some clarity on the issue. What they found was that compared to other plastic surgery patients, patients of breast augmentation surgery were no more likely to develop breast cancer.

What they did find, however, was that the diagnosis itself was delayed, as the implant can make self-examination and mammography more difficult to perform. This finding is important, since early detection is the key to increasing survival. In fact, if detected and treated in its earliest stages, 90% to 95% of breast cancer patients are cancer-free within 10 years. That number drops to 40% once the cancer has advanced. The National Research Center for Women and Families estimates that if 1.5-2 million women who have breast implants develop breast cancer, as many as 40,000 of them will not be diagnosed until the cancer has spread significantly.

Because of this finding, it is recommended that women who have breast implants undergo regular, specialized mammograms for the rest of their lives.


What Does it All Mean?

Despite all of the concern surrounding the safety of breast implants, both the FDA and the NCI report that the procedure is safe, and that it carries no added risk of cancer or disease – which is good news for those considering having breast augmentation surgery.

That said, there are some important considerations women should be aware of before deciding to go through with the surgery, including:


  • Effect on Breastfeeding: If you are considering having breast implants and are of child-bearing age, you should be aware that having the surgery may inhibit your ability to breastfeed. Although some women are able to breastfeed normally, those who have either silicone or saline-filled implants are at a 30-60% increased risk of developing lactation insufficiency.


  • Effect on Children: For those women who are able to breastfeed, studies show there may be an issue regarding the safety of the milk itself, as small amounts of silicone may pass into the breast milk – although as of yet there is no way of detecting this. In addition, silicone and other chemicals found in breast implants may negatively affect children born of mothers who have undergone breast augmentation (known as second-generation effects).


  • Risk of Suicide: For reasons which as are yet unknown, studies have found that among women who have had breast implants, risk of death by suicide is significantly higher than among those who have not had the surgery. However, underlying psychological problems are the most likely culprit.


  • Possibility of Gel Bleed: With regard to silicone-gel filled implants there is a concern that small amounts of silicone fluid may leak into surrounding tissue, which can lead to complications. However, like the other potential risks, there is no conclusive evidence linking gel bleed to such complications.


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