A flood of new cases of a rare blood cancer among women with breast implants is raising concerns about the safety of breast enhancements.
More than 400 women have reported developing breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma or BIA-ALCL, a rare form of blood cancer, due to their breast implants. Nine women have died of the cancer, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
The majority of cases occurred in women with textured breast implants, which is just one of several implant options. Textured breast implants have a rough surface, and develop scar tissue around the implant area to help it stay in place.
The number of cases increased from 359 to 414 over the last year, the FDA announced in March. That total increased significantly from previous years — between 1997 and 2010, the FDA had reported just 34 cases. The organization says now that it took time to identify this growing trend and gather data, and that most of the reported cases were diagnosed seven to eight years after the women had their implants put in.
The cancer can be cured if it’s caught early by removing the implant and the scar tissue around it, but it can require chemotherapy or additional serious treatments.
But the FDA is still exploring the severity of the threat and is unsure how many women may potentially be affected.
“Depending on the source data and country, the global lifetime risk of developing breast-implant-associated ALCL for patients with textured breast implants ranges anywhere from 1 in 3,817 to 1 in 30,000,” the FDA said in a report.
One woman who developed BIA-ALCL from her implants, Michelle Forney, spoke to NBC News on Monday about her experience and initial misdiagnosis.
“I had my breast implants for about 19 years. And everything was fine for many of those years until about three years ago,” Forney, 46, said. “Come December of last year, I woke up one day and my breast was the size of a volleyball. Within a day it grew and just engorged.”
She went to a breast specialist who first said Forney had an infection called mastitis — but the prescribed antibiotics were ineffective. After several more visits, doctors realized that her implants were the problem and convinced her to remove them, which is how they discovered the small tumors around her implants and diagnosed her with BIA-ALCL.
The FDA plans to have public hearings about BIA-ALCL to determine the safety of breast implants, while France has already instructed doctors to avoid using textured implants. Forney believes the FDA should do the same, starting now.
“We would love the FDA to require every hospital, every plastic surgeon, to send letters to every patient they put breast implants in, educating them on the signs and symptoms of ALCL,” she said. “I think that every doctor that has put breast implants in any woman should be taking responsibility.”
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