Do Breast Implants Affect Breast Cancer Risk?: A HealthCentral Explainer

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • You’re thinking about having breast augmentation surgery, but you’ve heard that implants might raise your risk of breast cancer. True or false?


    False, according to nearly all of the most current research.


    Breast implant surgery was introduced to the general public in 1962. Since then, much research has been done to assess implants’ safety, including studies looking for any possible link between breast cancer and implants, either saline or silicone.


    None of this research has found any such link – save for one. BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) published results of a small study in May 2013, indicating that implants might increase the incidence of breast cancer in older women; as well as the risk of death from breast cancer. 

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    However, the study authors were careful to note that the study “did not adjust for a number of confounding elements” (i.e., it included a lot of variables not accounted for in the results); and that more research was needed before definite conclusions could be drawn.


    In addition, the FDA published results in 2011 from a review of implants showing their possible connection to a very rare form of cancer - anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).


    Again, however, the conclusions you might draw from the study aren’t definitive. About 3 in 100 million American women a year are diagnosed with ALCL in the breast. Worldwide, about 60 women with breast implants have been diagnosed with ALCL. So, considering those tiny numbers, it’s not realistic to draw any firm conclusions about ALCL’s possible causes.


    That said, it’s important to understand that implants will make it more of a challenge to get a clear picture of your breast tissue via standard mammogram. Implants can cause scar tissue, which a mammogram might read as a suspicious lesion. They might also hide a potential tumor.


    What can you do to make sure your regular screening mammogram is as effective as possible?


    If you haven’t yet had your implant surgery, find out if it’s possible to place the implants under (rather than over) your chest muscle. Implants under the chest muscle are much less likely to obscure any tumors.


    Get a mammogram just prior to surgery, then another one within a year of surgery; this second mammogram will serve as a baseline for future screens.


    If you already have implants, here are two steps you can take to increase the effectiveness of your mammogram:


    •Make sure the radiologist, X-ray technician, and your GP all know that you have implants. Keep a record of what brand, design, and size they are, for possible future reference.

    •Make sure your mammogram includes “implant displacement views,” which are additional pictures made by moving the implants around to reveal more tissue.


    After you’ve had implant surgery, make a point of knowing what your breasts feel like – just as you did before surgery. They’ll obviously feel different at first, but eventually you’ll get used to your “new normal.” Note any changes – again, just as you would if you didn’t have implants – and report them to your doctor. 


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    So, don’t spend time worrying about your implants and whether they’ll give you cancer. The best defense against breast cancer is to know your breasts, so that you can recognize any changes; maintain a healthy weight; exercise regularly, and go easy on the alcohol. Do all of that, and you’re probably lowering your breast cancer risk as much as you possibly can.




    Bevers, T. (2013, October). Women: Breast implants and cancer risk. Retrieved from


    Fitzgerald, K. (2013, May 01). Breast implants can hinder breast cancer survival in women. Retrieved from 


    Pruthi, S. (2012, August 16). Is there any connection between breast implants and cancer? and if so, how serious is the risk?. Retrieved from


    What are the risk factors for breast cancer?. (2014, January 31). Retrieved from

Published On: May 06, 2014