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Women: Breast implants and cancer risk

Focused on Health - October 2013

Have breast implants? Or thinking of getting implants? You may be worried they’ll make it hard for your doctor to detect and treat breast cancer. breast implants

No need for concern, says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of 
MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. Just take the extra precautions listed below.   

Get familiar with your new breasts

In about 90% of breast cancer cases, women find a breast lump themselves. So, check your breasts regularly. It’s one of the best ways to detect breast cancer early.

If you have implants, pay extra attention to how your new breasts look and feel.  

“It’ll take a while to get used to your new breasts because they’ll have a different texture. They’ll also have new folds or dimples,” Bevers says.

But after you get comfortable with your new breasts, you shouldn’t have any problems noticing changes.

“Women with implants can sometimes even notice changes more easily than women without implants,” Bevers says. “Implants tend to push the natural breast tissue closer to the surface of the breast, making a lump easier to feel.”   

READ ALSO: Who’s at risk for breast cancer?

Take extra screening stepsmammogram

Most women, including those with breast implants, should start annual mammograms at age 40.

During a mammogram, images are collected by flattening the breast between two mammogram plates. Implants can get in the way of this flattening and make it difficult to see the breast clearly. So, you may need additional pictures taken during the exam.

“After we finish the standard views, we push the implants out of the way so we can get views of the breast tissue when flattened,” Bevers says. “It’s a more complex process, but we can still see good images of the breast.”

“Get a mammogram before and within one year after your cosmetic surgery,” says Steven Kronowitz, M.D., an MD Anderson plastic surgeon with expertise in breast reconstruction. “The mammogram after you get your implants serves as a baseline for future tests.”

Kronowitz also recommends placing breast implants under the chest muscle instead of above. “We can see more of the breast tissue during a mammogram when the implant is below the muscle, making it easier to detect changes,” Kronowitz says.

Share info on your implantsbreast cancer

Worried that flattening your breasts during the exam will damage your implants? That rarely happens, Kronowitz says. “The benefits of getting a mammogram far outweigh the risks of implant damage.” 

At every appointment remind your doctor, radiologist or gynecologist that you have implants. And make sure your health care provider has all the information on your breast implants, like the manufacturer, design, style and volume, before you get your mammogram.

“Having this information helps us determine if any unusual changes are from the implant or a woman’s natural breast tissue,” Kronowitz says.

READ ALSO: Your first mammogram: What to expect

Cancer may lead to implant removal  

If you have implants and get breast cancer, you may need to have your implants removed. This is true even if you don’t need a mastectomy (the removal of one or both breasts).

Keeping your implants can be painful. Plus, the radiation treatment can change the shape of your implant, and cause infection and even loss of the implant.

Whether you have implants or not, your best defense against breast cancer is to be aware of your breasts and go in for regular breast screening exams.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center