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Some breast implants slightly raise the risk of an uncommon type of lymphoma. Implants don’t increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

If you have breast implants, read on to find out how certain implants are connected to a rare cancer, why they don’t necessarily need to be removed, and why you should consult with a doctor if you have any unusual symptoms or concerns.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first noted a possible link between breast implants and cancer in 2011. It’s not breast cancer, but an immune system cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).

ALCL is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s rare, with an annual incidence of 0.25 cases per 100,000 people.

Breast implant associated ALCL (BIA-ALCL) develops in scar tissue and fluid near the implant. Like any cancer, it can spread. Without treatment, it can be a deadly cancer.

A 2018 study found an association between breast implants and increased risk of BIA-ALCL. Study authors wrote that the absolute risk is small, estimated at:

  • 1 in 35,000 at age 50
  • 1 in 12,000 at age 70
  • 1 in 7,000 at age 75

In 2019, the FDA alerted healthcare providers about a link between all breast implants, regardless of filling or texture, and BIA-ALCL. The agency informed doctors of 573 cases of BIA-ALCL worldwide, with 33 deaths. Of the 573 cases, 481 people had Allergan breast implants at diagnosis.

Allergan voluntarily recalled its Biocell saline and silicone-filled textured breast implants and tissue expanders in July 2019.

Symptoms of systemic ALCL may include:

Cutaneous ALCL mainly affects the skin. Symptoms can include skin lesions that don’t heal.

Other signs and symptoms of BIA-ALCL can include:

  • persistent swelling of the breast
  • a lump or mass near the implant
  • asymmetry of the breasts
  • tenderness or pain near the implant

Symptoms can start any time after your breast implant surgery. But symptoms often take years to develop.

If your doctor suspects BIA-ALCL, the next step will likely be an ultrasound or MRI. If there’s excess fluid around the implant, a sample of the fluid can be obtained with fine needle aspiration. If there’s a mass, a tissue biopsy is needed. These samples will be sent to a laboratory for testing.

There’s no evidence that breast implants raise the risk of developing any other types of cancer. This includes breast cancer.

A meta-analysis of observational studies published in 2015 examined the risk of breast cancer developing in women with cosmetic breast implants. They found no increased risk.

There is a question about breast cancer recurrence.

A 2020 study assessed breast cancer outcomes according to types of implants used for reconstruction following mastectomy. Findings suggest there may be a link between textured implants and higher risk of breast cancer relapse. The researchers said more studies are needed, though.

Other considerations

Scar tissue can change the shape and feel of implants. Over time, they may no longer look or feel quite right. Infection or rupture of the implants can also cause these changes. That’s why many people eventually have another surgery to remove or replace them.

Although changes around breast implants are not uncommon, they’re rarely due to cancer. When you have symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor to find out for sure.

Yes. Textured surface implants are associated with higher risk than smooth surface implants. Textured tissue expanders may also be of concern.

The FDA estimated the risk of BIA-ALCL with Allergan Biocell textured implants to be 6 times that of other types of textured implants.

The reason textured implants are associated with BIA-ALCL aren’t clear. It could be that the rough surface causes inflammation. It’s possible that genetic factors are also involved.

There doesn’t appear to be a difference in silicone versus saline for BIA-ALCL risk. But this hasn’t been thoroughly evaluated in large studies.

Allergan recalled its Biocell textured breast implants in 2019, but you may have had yours implanted prior to the recall. Even so, the FDA is not recommending removal of implants if you don’t have symptoms.

The longer you have the implants, the more likely complications become. Still, the risk of BIA-ALCL is low.

If you have textured breast implants, or you don’t know what kind you have, it’s worth having a discussion with your doctor. Regardless, you need regular check-ups to catch any problems before they have a chance to get worse.

Warning signs of BIA-ALCL include:

  • persistent swelling due to a build-up of fluid
  • a lump or mass in or around the breast or under the arm
  • breast tenderness or pain
  • tightness, firmness
  • changes to shape or size of breast

See a doctor right away if you have these or other changes near your implants.

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Treatment for BIA-ALCL usually involves surgical removal of the implant and surrounding scar tissue. You may need additional treatments — such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy — if the cancer has spread.

The FDA has warned that textured implants may slightly increase your risk of developing ALCL, a type of lymphoma. The type of implants associated with this cancer were recalled in mid-2019.

If you still have these implants but are symptom-free, it may not be necessary to remove them. Symptoms or not, you should see a doctor regularly to have them checked.

When it comes to keeping this type of implant or having them removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of breast implants and surgery to remove them.