You may have heard news reports that breast implants cause lymphoma, and if you have implants, you might be concerned. The short answer is, you needn't be.

Breast Implants and Cancer Risk

Since 1992, up to two million women in the U.S. and up to 10 million worldwide have had breast implants, either for cosmetic reasons or following breast cancer surgery. Implants are soft silicon sacs inflated with saline (most common) or synthetic silicone gel.

In 1992, the National Cancer Institute launched an extensive study to evaluate the risk of breast implants and cancer. They found no association for increased breast cancer risk and no increase in risk for lymphoma. There was some link to respiratory and brain cancers. Although earlier studies had suggested a link to lymphoma, the NCI study did not identify such a link.

Current Research Findings

Recently, researchers found an association between breast implants and Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL), a type of T-cell lymphoma. This is a rare cancer. In the general population, roughly one out of 500,000 women may develop ALCL, while about three in 100 million develop ALCL in the breast. Fortunately, ALCL is a benign growth; it doesn't metastasize and you can cure ALCL by removing the tumor.

So far, there are 34 confirmed cases of ALCL worldwide in patients with implants, and about that many cases that are still unconfirmed. Researchers began to associate these incidences of ALCL with breast implants because they consistently occur near a breast with an implant and they all have very similar characteristics.

The implants stimulate the formation of a thin, filmy layer of scar tissue, or capsule. This is where the tumor develops. The breasts become harder and firmer due to the scar tissue. Often fluid builds up within the scar pocket (seroma). Although harmless, these tumors can become painful if left untreated.

At this point, plastic surgeons do not have enough information to advise patients of their risk for ALCL or whether they should remove their implants. The Food and Drug Administration (which regulates medical devices, including breast implants) has set up a registry to collect more data.

In the meantime, physicians say women with breast implants should continue to monitor their health as usual, and be alert for any breast swelling or pain.

To put the risk in perspective, one physician said the incidence of a woman with breast implants developing ALCL is one in one million per year, less than her risk of being struck by lightning during the same year.


National Cancer Institute. "National Cancer Institute Breast Implant Study: Fact Sheet 29." Web. September 2010.

Cheson, Bruce D., MD. "Breast Implants and Lymphoma: Is There a Link?" Medscape Medical News. Web. 18 March 2011.

Wysong, Pippa, and Haeck, Phillip C., MD. "Breast Implants and Risk for Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma." Medscape Medical News. Web. 16 February 2011.

Bogdan, Michael, MD. "Keep Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma Breast Implant Risk in Perspective." Medscape Medical News. Web. 24 February 2011.