Issues surrounding the safety of breast implants have hit the headlines recently. We explore what this means for women who have implants as part of their breast cancer treatment.

Monday 17 December 2018      Policy and campaigns blog
a patient and doctor

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a large number of media organisations around the world (including The Guardian and BBC) have brought to light safety concerns around medical implants, including the use of implants in breast surgery.

This covers the use of implants in the reconstruction of a breast following a mastectomy as part of breast cancer treatment.

The investigation found:

  • More than 1,200 serious incidents linked to breast implants have been reported in the UK since the start of 2015
  • A rare form of cancer has also been shown to be linked to textured breast implants 
  • Huge numbers of women missing from clinical trials designed to monitor safety
  • Reports of ruptured implants, pain, disfigurement, allergic reactions and other symptoms

The regulatory deficiencies highlighted in the media obviously will cause concern for breast cancer patients who have had breast reconstruction with implants, or those who are about to go through this as part of their breast cancer treatment.

How does this affect breast cancer patients?

There are two main ways in which breast reconstruction is carried out following surgery to treat breast cancer– using an implant or using tissue from another part of the body. Breast implants come with different fillings and different surfaces: smooth and textured. In the UK, 99% of breast implants used are textured.

The Breast and Cosmetic Implant Registry recorded 20,665 operations with breast implants between October 2016 and June 2018. This included 2,875 breast reconstruction cases.  However, it should be noted that this is likely to be an underestimate as the registry is voluntary and not all organisations using implants are submitting data.

We would like to reassure women that the estimated risk of the rare form of cancer linked to textured implants, breast implant associated lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), is very low, occurring in 1 in 24,000 cases. Evidence from clinical trials suggests that other complications from implants are uncommon and not usually serious.

We would urge women not to worry, but if you do have any concerns about your implant to discuss these with your surgeon. For patients who are about to undergo breast reconstruction following a mastectomy, it is vital that the risks of using textured or smooth surfaced implants are fully discussed before surgery so that you can make fully informed choices.

For more information, the three UK surgical specialist associations involved in breast surgery have set out a clear statement on this issue.

We will follow this issue carefully to ensure that steps are taken to guarantee that new implants are introduced safely.