HOUSTON- October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and breast experts from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center agree that getting breast implants does not increase a woman’s breast cancer risks or prevent her from getting accurate mammogram test results.
“The question of how implants affect breast cancer risk and screening tests, like the mammogram, is a question that many women ask,” says Therese Bevers, M. D., medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at M. D. Anderson. “The good news is that implants do not increase breast cancer risks. But, they also don’t decrease them because women with implants still have their natural breast tissue.”
Breast awareness with implants
If you have implants, M. D. Anderson recommends paying special attention to your breasts and promptly reporting any changes to your doctor. Getting used to how breasts look and feel after implants may take women a little while to get used to, but that doesn’t mean they can’t notice the signs of breast cancer.
“The person most likely to find a lump in the breast is the woman herself,” Bevers says. “With implants, becoming familiar with your breasts is more difficult at first because the breast will have a different texture. It also will have new folds or dimples. But after a woman knows her new breasts, having implants should not get in the way of her noticing a change that might be cancer.”
Women with implants might even be more likely to notice changes to their breasts.
“Noticing breast changes can sometimes be easier for women with implants because the implants push the natural breast tissue to the outside of the breast, making a lump easier to feel,” says Elisabeth Beahm, M.D., F.A.C.S., a professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery at M. D. Anderson. “Also, most women with implants are more aware of their breasts and changes to their body.”
For any woman, checking your breasts regularly can lead to early detection.
Screening guidelines for women with breast implants
While being familiar with your breasts is good advice for women with natural breasts and for women with implants, the way that breast cancer screening exams are done for each are different. During a mammogram, images are collected by flattening the breast between two mammogram plates. Implants can get in the way of this flattening, which makes it difficult to see the breast as clearly. This doesn’t mean that women with implants can’t be screened for breast cancer. It just means that women with implants need additional pictures taken during the mammogram.
“We do the standard views with the implants,” Bevers says. “Then, we push the implants out of the way so that we can get views of the flattened breast tissue. Although it is a more complex process, we can still get good images of the breast.”
Women also should be aware that the size of their implants can affect breast cancer testing.
“Very large implants can be more difficult to image with mammography,” Beahm says. “So we suggest that women concerned about breast cancer not get extremely large implants. Stick with implants that fit your body type.”
If you get implants, educate yourself about breast cancer
Women should get a mammogram before and after they get implants. They also should talk to their doctor about their family history of cancer. They should protect themselves by being aware of their own breasts, talking to their doctor about their family history and following current breast cancer screening guidelines.
“If you get implants, get a mammogram before your reconstructive surgery,” Beahm says. “Also, get a mammogram six months after to serve as a baseline for future tests. There can be changes in the breast after any surgery. It may seem like a lot of time, trouble and money, but it is well worth it.”
When getting a mammogram, women should remind their doctor, radiologist and gynecologist that they have implants at every appointment.