Cancer Researchers Raise
the Red Flag on Breast Implants
By Rozolyn Roscoe, Contributing Editor
If you’re thinking that very few women need to be concerned about this problem—think again…
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that anywhere from 5-10 million women worldwide have breast implants. In the United States, nearly four million women had breast implant procedures from 1998 — 2009.
About 80 percent of these procedures are for cosmetic reasons and 20 percent are for breast reconstruction.
So the truth is you or someone you know might want to know about a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning that links implants to a “small but significant increase” in the development of a rare type of cancer1. Here’s the story. . .
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The FDA found 60 cases of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in their review of medical literature, doctors, regulators, and implant makers.
Although ALCL was found in the breast, it’s not breast cancer. It’s actually a rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that involves the immune system.
So why raise a red flag for such a small number of cases? The FDA said if it were just pure chance that ALCL is being found in women with breast implants then you would expect to see it just as often in ALL parts of the breast. But here’s the thing…
Researchers noticed the ALCL was located mainly in the scar tissue immediately surrounding the breast implant!
So perhaps you’re wondering…
How does ALCL wind up in breast tissue?
ALCL is a type of lymphoma—the group of cancers that can form inside your lymphatic system. This system transports fluid, nutrients, and wastes between the body tissues and the bloodstream to help protect you from diseases.
The lymph cells that act as germ fighters are white blood T cells. The problem is ALCL changes these cells and causes them to multiply. Eventually, the altered T-cells begin to outnumber healthy cells and form tumors.
There’s some speculation that silicone from the shell of both saline and silicone implants might cause cancerous changes in T cells. But the FDA said that because ALCL is so rare, further study is needed to collect data on a larger population of women for a longer period of time — more than 10 years.
Even after such a big, long-term study, the agency cautions that we won’t be sure whether the implants are causing cancer. But the FDA is collaborating with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and other medical and scientific experts to establish a registry that gathers data on:
1. What features of breast implants might increase the risk of ALCL,
2. How often ALCL occurs in women with breast implants, and
3. Pathological characteristics and clinical features of ALCL in women with breast implants.
In the 60 cases reviewed so far by the FDA, women reported a wide range of symptoms—including fluid buildup, lumps, pain, swelling and breast asymmetry— usually years after they had healed from the implant surgery.
The FDA suggests that women with breast implants should:
1. Monitor breast implants and contact a medical professional if they notice changes
2. Get regular mammography screening (Cancer Defeated doesn’t agree — see our report Breast Cancer Cover-Up for better screening techniques)
3. Get periodic MRI images if you have silicone-gel implants to check for leaks; MRI images should be taken three years after implant surgery and every two years thereafter.
I’m going to make a wild prediction: The companies that manufacture breast implants will downplay the FDA findings. They’d prefer to have you believe there’s little to no risk involved with getting implants. They might even be right.
But given the uncertainty of the situation, it’s best for women to consult a medical practitioner before having this surgery for cosmetic or reconstructive reasons. In any case…
It never hurts to check ’em
Regardless of whether you have or are considering breast implants, you might decide to conduct periodic breast self-examinations. Here are some tips from the National Institutes of Health2 on how to do this:
|⇒||Do the exam about 3 – 5 days after your period starts. Your breasts will be less tender and lumpy then.|
|⇒||If you have gone through menopause, do your exam on the same day every month.|
|⇒||While lying on your back:|
1. Place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, gently yet firmly press down using small motions to examine the entire right breast.
2. Then, while sitting or standing, examine your armpit. Your breast tissue does extend to that area.
3. Gently squeeze your nipple to check for discharge.
4. Repeat this entire process on the left breast.
5. Next, stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Look directly at your breasts and in the mirror to note changes in skin texture (e.g. dimpling or puckering), shape, contour, or the nipple turning inward. Do the same with your arms raised above your head.
Keep in mind that most women have some lumps. Don’t worry yourself sick about whether or not a lump is normal or not.
Your goal should be to find anything new or different—then see your health care provider PRONTO for an evaluation.
If you missed the last issue’s article on how Steve Jobs went wrong in dealing with his cancer, please scroll down and read it now. We can all learn from this tragic episode.