As the popularity of breast augmentation has climbed, so have the number of health concerns related to breast implants themselves—specifically, textured breast implants, which have been definitively linked to a form of lymphoma called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). While the problem has gotten increasing coverage over the last year, it’s not yet remotely contained: per a new report from CBC, “Health Canada [Canada’s public health department] said as of December it had received 106 reports describing 'breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL),' including both confirmed and suspected cases.”
As of 2018, breast augmentation has been the most common cosmetic surgical procedure in the United States, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. More than 300,000 American women undergo breast augmentation every year, and it has remained steadily popular since it first topped the list of cosmetic surgical procedures in 2006.
The World Health Organization first classified BIA-ALCL as its own form of cancer in 2016. Since then, textured implants made by pharmaceutical company Allergan were pulled from the European market in December 2018, banned in Canada in May, and voluntarily recalled in the U.S. in August. When the implants were first flagged by the Food and Drug Administration, the regulatory agency said in a statement that patients with Allergan’s textured implants had “approximately 6 times the risk of BIA-ALCL with textured implants from other manufacturers marketing in the U.S.” and warned that “continued distribution of Allergan's BIOCELL textured breast implants would likely cause serious, adverse health consequences and potentially death from BIA-ALCL.”
As of July 2019, there have been 573 confirmed cases of BIA-ALCL worldwide, with a total of 33 fatalities. But the recent uptick in Canadian diagnoses suggests the number of cases could be higher, a view echoed by BIA-ALCL patients.
"We have women in Canada presenting symptoms to their physician, and the physician is telling them that they don't have cancer and … that they should get on with their lives because of the word rare," Terri McGregor, who was diagnosed with the cancer in 2015 told CBC. “What I will tell you is, [for] every single diagnosed woman I know there was a little bit of luck involved in that she landed at the right time and right place—and that is no way to diagnose cancer.”
BIA-ALCL isn’t the only medical issue associated with breast augmentation. According to the New York Times, the phrase “breast implant illness” has been coined as an umbrella descriptor for a variety of symptoms associated with breast implants, including “severe muscle and joint pain, weakness, cognitive difficulties and fatigue.” The Times also highlighted the link between breast implants and autoimmune disease, which has yet to be medically substantiated. It’s worth noting, however, that BIA-ALCL is a cancer of the immune system.
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