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Stories of breast implant-associated lymphoma

A diagnosis of breast cancer in her mid-30s while raising a young child was only the first part of a nightmare battle. After chemotherapy and the agonizing decision to go with complete breast removal and reconstructive surgery with implants, she was cancer-free.

For six years at least – the implants had lead to another form of cancer. Breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma has been linked to textured implants that may cause inflammation that develops into cancer. We wrote about these links in a March blog post.

Growing awareness

The number of implant procedures completed each year has been increasing. The New York Times reports that between 2000 and 2016, breast augmentations increased 37 percent and reconstructions increased 39 percent. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons 400,000 American women receive implants each year – about one in four is related to reconstructive surgery following a battle with breast cancer.

Unfortunately, few doctors inform women of the risk prior to these procedures.

Delay in diagnosis, insurance denials and mistakes in treatment

With a rare disease, physicians may not make the diagnosis right away. Insurers can cause further delay by refusing to pay for certain procedures. Mistakes in developing a treatment plan are another issue.

A woman in Florida found that several plastic surgeons were unaware of lymphoma linked to breast implants and eventually had to seek treatment at MD Anderson. The Federal Drug Administration reported nine deaths had been linked to this type of cancer. In one of those deaths, the woman became critically ill while doctors struggled to determine what was wrong. A physician friend of the woman’s family suggested testing for lymphoma. But by this time she was too weak to survive the surgery to remove the implant.

The first recommended step after diagnosis is removal of the implants. But some insurers who pay for the reconstructive surgery have hesitated to pay for removal. Blue Cross Blue Shield actually refused to pay for removal of implants and told one woman to appeal the decision. In others cases, physicians might not realize the importance of removal. A woman in Idaho was prescribed chemotherapy and radiation but a year after diagnosis still had her implants.

A non-profit has been started to educate women on the risks. A Facebook group allows women with implant-related cancer to share stories and learn about treatments. After a diagnosis, speaking with an attorney is critical to learn about legal options as well.

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