Only recently described, breast implant–associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) usually presents as an effusion-associated fibrous capsule surrounding the implant and less frequently as a mass. Little is known about the natural history and long-term outcomes of such disease. It is estimated that between 5 and 10 million women have breast implants. Due to the rarity of a diagnosis of ALCL (3 in 100 million per year in the USA diagnosed with ALCL in the breast) a worldwide collaboration is required to provide robust data to investigate this possible link.
ALCL is a lymphoma and not cancer of the breast tissue. When breast implants are placed in the body, they are inserted behind the breast tissue or under the chest muscle. Over time, a fibrous scar called a capsule develops around the implant, separating it from the rest of the breast. In women with breast implants, the ALCL was generally found adjacent to the implant itself and contained within the fibrous capsule. ALCL is a lymphoma which is a type of cancer involving cells of the immune system. It is not cancer of the breast tissue.
The most recent clinical studies state that it is not possible to confirm with any certainty whether breast implants have any relation to an increased likelihood of developing ALCL, and particularly whether any one type of implant can create a higher or lower risk than another of developing the disease. It should be noted that ALCL is extremely rare and treatable. This is evidenced in particular by three recent papers:
- A Danish nationwide study – ‘Breast implants and anaplastic large-cell lymphoma: a Danish population-based cohort study’– concluded that in a nationwide cohort of 19,885 women who underwent breast implant surgery between 1973 and 2010, no cases of ALCL were identified
- A review of cases within another recent comprehensive article, ‘Breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma: long-term follow-up of 60 patients’ concluded that: “most patients with breast implant-associated ALCL who had disease confined within the fibrous capsule achieved complete remission. Proper management for these patients may be limited to capsulectomy and implant removal. Patients who present with a mass have a more aggressive clinical course that may be fatal, justifying cytotoxic chemotherapy in addition to removal of implants.”
- In a study reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Roberto N. Miranda, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Hematopathology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and colleagues assessed disease characteristics, treatment, and outcomes in 60 cases. They found that outcomes are better in women with effusion confined by the fibrous capsule, whereas disease presenting as a mass has a more aggressive clinical course.Patients should be advised that ALCL is a very rare condition and until any further evidence is presented there is no need to remove breast implants as a matter of course.
These data suggest that there are two patient subsets. Most patients who present with an effusion around the implant, without a tumour mass, achieve complete remission and excellent disease-free survival. A smaller subset of patients presents with a tumour mass associated with the fibrous capsule and are more likely to have clinically aggressive disease. We suggest that patients without a mass may benefit from a conservative therapeutic approach, perhaps removal of the implant with capsulectomy alone, whereas patients with a tumour mass may need removal of the implants and systemic therapy that still needs to be defined.
We continue to advise that any women with breast implants who experience any sudden unexplained changes, lumps or swelling should speak to their GP or their surgeon.