The two figures are related, Deapen said. Anaplastic large cell lymphoma is rare. Only 4.3 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States fall into the category of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the National Cancer Institute. Because the cancer is rare, even something that can increase the risk in a very significant way, like breast implants, will only result in a few people in a study group developing the cancer.
That small pool of people who are vulnerable to a rare cancer means that researchers studying the link between the risk factor and the disease need to look at a very large group of people in order to spot meaningful changes.
Could the type of implant matter when it comes to cancer risk? This study was conducted in the Netherlands, where about 45 percent of breast implants are textured. Among the women who developed lymphoma, about 82 percent had textured implants. Non-textured, smooth implants may be used more often in the United States than in the Netherlands, according to Dr. Hinne Rakhorst, a plastic surgeon and one of the authors of the paper.
Doing this study in the United States would most likely show very different results, Deapen said. And there’s definitely not enough data to confirm that there’s a particular brand of implant that’s particularly risky.
Conducting a study like this in the U.S. would be nearly impossible because we don’t collect the same data on a national level. A new breast implant registry in the United States could help address some concerns, Deapen noted. “That’s not going to prevent disease, but that’s going to at least monitor outcomes.”
The first cases of anaplastic large cell lymphoma associated with breast implants were reported in 1997. Following a 2008 study, the FDA issued a report stating that breast implants were associated with an increased risk of non-anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in 2011. The World Health Organization has a separate designation for this kind of breast-implant associated cancer.
This increased risk doesn’t mean that we need to ban breast implants, de Jong said. But women should be aware of the risks and of the symptoms associated with this cancer, which include swelling or a lump in the breast with the implant. “Women should not panic,” she said, “but they should be aware of it.”