New Study Illuminates Link Between Breast Implants and Lymphoma

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New research sheds light on the link between breast implants and the rare lymphoma subtype anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).

Typically, ALCL forms in the lymph nodes, the liver, the skin and other soft tissue. But in women who have undergone breast implants, the disease forms in the breast—or to be more specific, in the scar tissue surrounding the implant.

This occurrence—ALCL following breast augmentation—is extremely rare, with just 71 known cases reported worldwide, against 290,000 augmentations done in the United States alone just last year. Experts say the occurrence is somewhere around 1 case per three million procedures.

Despite the extraordinary rarity, Dr. Matt Kaiser of Leukemia and Lymphoma Research in the UK believes the link needs to be understood. "It is important to investigate any possible links to what causes these cancers, so that we can help people balance benefits versus risks and so that we can work out how we might be able to prevent the risks altogether."

Thus, Dr. Suzanne Turner of the University of Cambridge and colleagues undertook an analysis of all the known case reports. What they found ran counter to what is known about ALCL and may prove to unlock much larger secrets about cancer.

Normally, people with ALCL have either ALK positive disease or ALK negative disease. Those with ALK positive disease have a much better prognosis because they respond better to treatment, while the latter group needs more aggressive treatment and has a poorer prognosis.

The overwhelming majority of cases where breast implants triggered ALCL turned out to be ALK negative disease, but contrary to expectations, outcomes for these women were very good, with a high response to treatment.

What's more, in many of the cases, these women did not need to undergo combination chemotherapy or round upon round of radiation—instead, treatment simply amounted to removal of the implant and of the tissue surrounding it.

The research team believes this likely indicates an abnormal immune response to the breast implants in the body, which leads to cancer.

"It's becoming clear that implant-related ALCL is a distinct clinical entity in itself," says Dr. Turner. "There are still unanswered questions and only by getting to them bottom of this very rare disease will we be able to find alternative ways to treat it."

The team reported their findings in the journal Mutation Research.

Source: University of Cambridge

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