The Titanium Marker: Should You Worry?

PJ Hamel Health Guide January 02, 2011
  • “I had titanium markers in both breasts after a stereotactic biopsy. Since then, I have had some bad reactions with rashes all over and nonstop itching. Has anyone else experienced this?” - Melanie

    “My wife had a stereotactic biopsy back in September of 2008. They put one of these titanium markers in afterwards. Since then she has times where she grabs her right breast in extreme pain… She continues to have this pain and it has been about 8 months! I've seen some posts where some people have talked about having the chip/marker removed. We would be interested in hearing other peoples' thoughts and experiences with this.” – John


    “I am so mad right now! I was talked into placing the marker in during a needle biopsy. Now I have stabbing pain in my left breast and am told it is major surgery to remove it.” = Kelly

    “Hi, I too got talked into the biopsy and the marker. My tests all came out negative. However, 3 months later I am still feeling pain at the site of the biopsy. I am convinced that the stinging and constant irritation is being caused by the marker. Now I have to see a surgeon about having it removed. Frankly, no one is taking me serious.” – Rob

    “It was definitely the clip that was causing my pain. I suffered for four straight weeks, even had to be hospitalized. The day the clip was removed the pain in my breast was gone. To be honest the whole experience was quite traumatic- The Dr. who put the clip in me acted like there was no way it could be bothering me. Sure enough though it was. I was so ill from the clip, losing weight, unable to work, vomiting from the pain, etc., that I could not have continued to live a productive life with it in… It seems like the medical community is NOT acknowledging that women are being bothered by these clips.” - Butterfly 9773


    The comments above all come from this site, from women (or their caregivers) concerned about pain and other symptoms that began after a breast biopsy, and continue unabated. These readers attribute their reactions to a titanium clip inserted during the biopsy.

    What’s going on here?

    Some background, for those of you unfamiliar with a breast biopsy. When a lump or other suspicious mass is found in your breast (either by mammogram, or because you’ve felt it yourself), your doctor will try to identify what it is, usually by further diagnostic tests: additional mammogram views, an ultrasound, or perhaps an MRI.

    If all of those tests can’t definitively rule out cancer, then the doctor will turn to the only remaining test: surgical biopsy.

    Luckily, about 85% of biopsies are negative; no cancer. But you have to go through the procedure anyway. And it nearly always involves leaving a small marker, or clip, in the exact area biopsied.

    Why? If cancer is present, and further surgery is needed, the surgeon will be able to go back to that exact spot to remove the tumor – which could be tiny, perhaps as small as 1/16”.  Thus the need for a marker.


  • The marker is small – about the size of a sesame seed. It’s made of titanium, a “biocompatible metal” – it won’t react with anything in your body. It also won’t set off security alarms at the airport, interfere with future MRIs, or cause any other problems.

    That’s the official line, anyway. So, what to make of the experiences related by Melanie, Kelly, and others at the top of this post? Is it all in their head? Some other type of reaction, perhaps to scar tissue?

    Or could the titanium marker really be at the root of the pain, rashes, and other symptoms they attribute to it?

    After much research, I’ve come to the following conclusions.

    First, pain, rashes, and other post-biopsy conditions are NOT “all in your head.” They obviously exist; the challenge is to find out what’s causing them, then take remedial action.

    Second, it’s exceedingly rare, but some people are, in fact, allergic to titanium. Check out this abstract on the National Institute of Health’s Web site.

    Third, it’s possible that the titanium used to make the clip might not have been 100% pure; it may have somehow become contaminated with another substance during the manufacturing process.

     

    Again, this would be exceedingly rare; manufacturers have strict quality controls in place. But, accidents DO happen. And the clip inserted in your breast might not be 100% titanium.

    Bottom line: reactions to titanium clips inserted into the breast – either prior to surgery, or inserted at the time of surgery, prior to radiation – are very rare. Hundreds of thousands of women have these markers inserted into their beasts each year, and the vast majority experience no problem with them.

    But an adverse reaction to titanium is possible.

    My advice? The possible benefit of having the clip inserted – identifying precisely the location of a cancerous tumor – outweighs the possibility of a bad reaction. If you’re having a biopsy, and it includes insertion of a titanium marker, don’t worry about it.

    But if, after having a titanium clip inserted into your breast, you find that months later – way past the time when you should have recovered – you’re dealing with pain or rashes or other unexplained discomfort, consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of having the clip removed.

    Because, unlikely though it is, it may just be that marker that’s causing your symptoms.