Breast Implants – A Link to Lymphoma?

Breast implants are popular among women who want to increase their bust size. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently raised some concerns.

In 2011, the FDA warned that there might be a connection between breast implants and a rare form of lymphoma known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma. There were so few cases that the agency couldn’t be specific about how breast implants might increase the risk. By 2017, however, enough cases had been reported that the FDA upgraded its warning.


Lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in white blood cells called lymphocytes. The cancer may begin in any area of the body. Lymphocytes occur in places like the bone marrow, spleen and lymphatic system.

Breast implants are considered medical devices (in other countries they may be called therapeutic goods) and the FDA collects information about any adverse outcomes related to medical devices. Other countries do the same.

In 2016, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) conducted a detailed analysis of 46 cases in Australia in which breast implants were linked to anaplastic large cell lymphoma. The TGA estimated the risk of developing this cancer between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 among women who received breast implants. In the US, the FDA notes that as of February 1, 2017, it had received a total of 359 reports of anaplastic large cell lymphoma associated with breast implants.

The data indicate that most cases have been found in women who have had a revision operation for persistent fluid accumulation or symptoms such as pain, swelling, lumps or breasts that are uneven in size.

The FDA notes that breast implants with textured surfaces seem more likely to trigger anaplastic large cell lymphoma than those with smooth surfaces.

The FDA report stressed that this is a rare condition. However, it notes women who are considering breast implants should educate themselves about the potential short- and long-term risks before making a decision.

After the operation, the FDA recommends routine mammography screening by a technologist who is trained in performing the exam on patients with breast implants. In addition, the FDA recommends that women with silicon-filled implants should have an MRI three years after the surgery and every two years thereafter. An MRI can help identify leaks from an implant.

The FDA states it will continue to collect data and monitor this situation, and will issue periodic updates.

US Food and Drug Administration, “Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL)”

American Cancer Society, “Lymphoma”

Written by: Beth Greenwood, RN