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Breast Implant Illness

Some people who get breast implants experience a variety of symptoms collectively called breast implant illness (BII). This collection of symptoms is also referred to as silicone implant illness.

If you’re unsure what breast implant illness (BII) is, it’s because it’s a new word for a disease that hasn’t been completely identified and isn’t yet medically recognized, at least not in a way that has clear diagnostic requirements.

Despite this, a number of women with breast implants are experiencing a wide range of BII symptoms. Although these symptoms are undeniably true, researchers are still trying to figure out if they are caused by implants or are the result of a separate disease or disorder.

Dr. Finkel, a Double Board Certified Plastic Surgeon, is dedicated to keeping current on the latest research on BII. 

Breast Implant Illness (BII)

Breast implants can significantly improve a person’s life. However, some people have recently suspected that their breast implants have caused them to become very ill with diseases like:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjögren’s Syndrome

Older research found no consistent scientific evidence linking these conditions to silicone or saline-filled breast implants. However, newer research from a variety of sources has discovered a connection between silicone breast implants and autoimmune diseases.

According to these reports, silicone breast implants can increase your chances of developing autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, scleroderma, and sarcoidosis. Another source, on the other hand, claims that the FDA is unable to establish a clear link between silicone implants and autoimmune diseases. Researchers from this same source do not believe the evidence is good enough to conclusively prove a connection between these breast implants and autoimmune disease at this time.

Another potential reason for concern has been reported by the World Health Organization and the United States Food and Drug AdministrationTrusted Source. Breast implants are linked to a rare cancer known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). 

Breast implants have also been linked to a number of other risks, including:

  • Scarring
  • Breast pain
  • Infection
  • Sensory changes
  • Implant leakage or rupture

What causes BIA-ALCL?

According to scientists, the precise causes of BIA-ALCL are unknown. Textured implants tend to be linked to more cases of BIA-ALCL than smooth implants. This may be because textured implants have a larger surface area on which a bacterial infection can form, according to scientists. Infections can cause an immune response that, and in rare cases lead to cancer.

It is important to avoid infection, regardless of implant form (smooth or textured). Infection is a much more serious breast implant-related illness. Any surgery, like breast augmentation, carries the risk of infection. Infections can happen if a surgical site isn’t kept clean or if bacteria gets into your breast during the procedure. 

Besides infection, other complications associated with breast implants may occur. These include:

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Skin necrosis 
  • Slowed wound healing
  • Scar tissue buildup (capsular contracture)
  • Implant deflation and rupture
  • Change in breast shape, volume, or sensation
  • Thinning of your breast tissue and skin
  • Calcium deposits
  • Breast discomfort
  • Nipple discharge
  • Dropping or bottoming out of the implant
  • Asymmetry
  • Need for further surgery

What are the signs and symptoms of a breast implant illness?

BIA-ALCL is often found inside the tissue that surrounds the implant. It can, however, spread to other parts of the lymphatic system, including lymph nodes. The following are the most common signs and symptoms:

  • Continuous swelling or pain around your breast implant, which may occur long after a surgical incision has healed or many years after implants are inserted
  • Fluid collection around your breast implant
  • Capsular contracture, which can form a lump under your skin or thick scar tissue around the implant, resulting in a misshapen appearance

There are a wide range of symptoms related to breast implant complications. As previously mentioned, infection is a complication of BIA-ALCL. It’s important to address any problems that occur as a result of your breast implant. Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Discharge
  • Change in breast shape or color
  • Fever

One researcher examined what to look for in terms of autoimmune symptoms. According to Trusted Source, silicone breast implants may trigger autoimmune disease symptoms in some patients. These signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Arthralgias
  • Myalgias
  • Pyrexia
  • Dry eyes 
  • Dry mouth

Silicone from the implant has the ability to leak in the body, causing a persistent inflammatory disorder. Inform your doctor if you encounter any of the connective tissue inflammatory symptoms mentioned above.

How do you know if you have a problem with your breast implants?

BIA-ALCL is classified as T-cell lymphoma. Some people develop BIA-ALCL after the surgical insertion of breast implants.

T-cell lymphomas are cancers that develop in your T cells, which are a type of white blood cell in your immune system. According to the American Cancer Society, these cancers appear to spread quickly. A person’s prognosis for BIA-ALCL is determined by the stage of their cancer at the time of diagnosis and how aggressive it is. Within 7 to 8 years of the insertion of breast implants, half of all confirmed cases of BIA-ALCL are reported. Since the signs of BIA-ALCL are so vague, experts believe that diagnosing it can be difficult and time-consuming.

Experts have begun to establish diagnosis standards as scientific knowledge about it has grown in recent years. When a doctor suspects BIA-ALCL, he or she will conduct a series of tests to rule out any possible causes of the symptoms. These assessments can include the following:

  • An ultrasound-guided aspiration of fluid that’s collected around your breast implant. Your doctor may suspect BIA-ALCL if there is a cancerous T cell presence in this fluid.
  • Thick scarring around your implant.
  • If your doctor finds an abnormal breast mass, they may test the tissue for lymphoma using a biopsy.

Various blood tests may be used to diagnose autoimmune disorders. These procedures are carried out in conjunction with a detailed medical history and physical examination. Doctors search for the clinical symptoms and signs that each person is experiencing. Imaging testing can be useful depending on the form and location of inflammatory symptoms.

How are breast implant illnesses treated?

Dr. Finkel will prescribe a PET-CT scan if you’ve been diagnosed with BIA-ALCL. This imaging test examines the body for signs of lymphoma in other areas. Although this cancer is uncommon, it has the potential to be aggressive and spread.

Most people with BIA-ALCL will require surgical removal of one or both implants. When a stage 1 diagnosis is made early enough, implant removal is usually enough to stop the disease from progressing. More aggressive treatment is needed for cancer that has spread to stage 2 or higher. Chemotherapy, in addition to implant removal, may be able to delay or avoid the progression of the disease. Other breast implant-related complications are usually treated on a symptom-by-symptom basis. Antibiotics are often used to treat infection, but in extreme cases, surgery to remove the infected implants may be needed.

Regarding the possibility of an allergic reaction, one study found that removing silicone breast implants relieved systemic symptoms in 75% of patients. During a 14-month monitoring period after the implants were removed, symptoms included arthralgia, myalgia, exhaustion, and neurological symptoms.

What can you do to avoid a breast implant infection?

The 5-year survival rate for people with BIA-ALCL is 89%, which is relatively high for any stage of cancer. The survival rate is also higher for people with stage 1 cancer who have their affected implant or implants, as well as cancerous breast tissues, completely removed. However, cancer treatment is challenging, expensive, and not always effective. While breast augmentation carries some risks, it is still considered a safe procedure. Before you have your treatment, make sure you are aware of the potential for complications. Keep in mind that BIA-ALCL is a very rare occurrence.

Recent research has linked breast implants, specifically silicone implants, to an increased risk of autoimmune disease. However, the data’s conclusiveness is debatable, and further research would be needed to more precisely analyze and pinpoint a clear cause-and-effect relationship.

Closely monitor your breasts after your operation to reduce your risk of infection, implant rupture, and breast cancer disease. Follow the surgeon’s post-operative orders to the letter. If you notice any changes in your breasts or health, particularly if you notice signs of infection, contact Dr. Finkel right away.