Deanna’s Discoveries: Do breast implants cause cancer? We get answers and help you make the best choice for you

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – While Monday marks the end of breast cancer awareness month, awareness should never end.  One in eight women will experience breast cancer during her lifetime.  And many of those women have breast reconstruction surgery using implants.

Now a new warning from the FDA is causing alarm in the breast cancer community.  The FDA reports of the development of a second cancer called squamous cell carcinoma in the tissue surrounding the implants.  And the cancers have been found in women with all kinds of implants, textured, smooth, saline and silicone. 

So now I, like millions of other women with implants, have a decision to make.  Should I remove my implants? That’s a question I pose to the new Director of Comprehensive Breast Care at Pluta, Dr. Anna Weiss.

It was fall of 2018 when I was wheeled into the chilly operating room at Strong for breast cancer surgery. My surgeon removed the tumor then it was taken to pathology to be analyzed.  I’d had breast cancer surgery before .in 2010 I had a double mastectomy followed by reconstruction with implants.  Now, a second breast cancer, and I chose to keep my implants.  After all, I have a job in the public eye and I feared I’d look odd in some clothing without breasts.  But then last month the FDA issued the warning linking breast implants with a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

Women have developed new cancers in the tissue around their implants, and the type of implant doesn’t matter.  Women with smooth, textured, saline and silicone implants have all developed secondary cancers.

“My reaction to reading about the new FDA warning about breast implants is that first of all it is still a rare occurrence,” said Dr. Weiss.

It is exceedingly rare.  The FDA cites about 50 cases among the millions of American women with breast implants. But for women like me who have already endured cancer, it’s another source of worry.  The question raised by this warning is obvious:  Are the implants causing the new cancers?

We can’t really say that in this case,” said Dr. Weiss.  “But it stands to reason that our bodies are creating some type of immune or inflammatory reaction to the foreign object that may be leading to this [squamous cell carcinoma].”

So now women like me have a choice to make. We either accept that the chance of developing a secondary cancer is exceedingly small and keep the implant or remove them and reduce the risk.  So I asked Dr. Weiss to examine my implants and offer her opinion.

She started the examination by feeling my lymph nodes, an important part of any breast examination because that’s where breast cancer usually spreads first. Then she examined the capsule around my implants.

“If something were to be wrong with the tissue around the implants, what are some of the things that you should look for?” I asked her.

“So small nodules, point tenderness, kind of that new pain I was talking about, new swellings and I would say a dimpling in one area that’s new and different from the other,” she replied.

And that immediately set off internal alarm bells because I have what I would describe as dimpling or rippling on one of my implants.  So I asked her to examine it.  And fortunately, it’s likely nothing to worry about.  The layer of fat surrounding the implant is just thinner in that area.

“So it’s very common on the extreme edges or borders or bottom of the implants that you can feel them more,” she explained.

Still, I have reasons for concern.  My adult life has been marked by four different cancers. I’m considering removing the implants.  But what will I look like?

With all the previous surgeries if I were to have the implants taken out, how much scarring on my chest would there be? I asked.

That’s a good question,” answered Dr. Weiss.  “Typically they can use your old scars.”

I have horizontal scars across the areas where my breasts once were.  My plastic surgeon used the same scars to insert my implants, and Dr. Weiss believes it’s possible to remove my implants by using those same old incisions and avoid creating new scars.  An experienced surgeon can create a flat surface.  It’s called aesthetic flat closure.  I would join a large community of breast cancer survivors who are unapologetically flat by choice.  A non-profit organization called Not Putting on a Shirt provides a wealth of information about the procedure.  It also has a photo gallery so that woman considering aesthetic flat closure can envision what she might look like after having it done.

“How long does it [aesthetic flat closure] usually take?” I asked Dr. Weiss.

“About two hours,” she answered.

But your procedure may take a bit longer if your implant was placed under the pectoral (chest) muscle.  It’s easier to remove implants that were placed above the muscle.

But for every survivor, the decision you make has to ultimately be the right decision for you, a decision guided not by fear but by research and information.

Women in the Rochester area should also consult the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester which has a wealth of local resources, advice, and guidance.  There, you can also meet other breast cancer survivors who can share their experiences and help you make an informed choice.

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