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Can breast enlargement cause cancer?

This page tells you about breast enlargement using implants and why there has been some concern about it causing health problems. There is information about

 

What breast enlargement is

Breast enlargement (augmentation) is usually done by putting in silicone implants. The implants are a breast shaped bag made of a silicone membrane filled with silicone gel. Implants can also be used as part of recreating a breast shape after surgery for breast cancer. 

There are many different makes of implants. They do not last forever, and sometimes they have to be replaced after 10 to 15 years. Modern designs of silicone implants have a thicker outer shell of silicone rubber, so they are not likely to leak. The gel has been thickened, so it is more difficult for it to leak out.

 

Implants and health problems 

There have been health concerns about silicone. The concerns are about the silicone gel leaking out of the implant and collecting in the tissues. Some women have said they thought this was the cause of symptoms such as aching and joint pain and extreme tiredness. But several large studies have found that there is no evidence that silicone leakage causes these symptoms. There is information about silicone implants and connective tissue disease in the breast reconstruction section.

 

Silicone and cancer

Some women worry that the silicone could cause breast cancer. But there is no evidence that silicone increases the risk of breast cancer.

In December 2011 there were reports of problems with a particular type of implant called Prothese (PIP) implants made by a French company. The implants were banned in 2010 after tests found that they contain a type of silicone gel that is not approved for medical use. Tests have not shown any increased risk of health problems from this silicone gel compared to other types of implant. But the implant cover (shell) is more likely to rupture. 

 

MHRA advice about Prothese implants

Up to 47,000 women in the UK have had Prothese implants. The Medicines and Regulatory Health Products Agency (MHRA) has reported that approximately 1 in 100 (1%) women in the UK with PIP breast implants had leakage of the gel and had the implants replaced. The MHRA recommends that all patients who have questions about their PIP breast implants should get advice from the surgeon who put in the implants. 

The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) looked into this issue. It reported in October 2013 that there is no evidence that women who have PIP breast implants are at higher risk of cancer. They say that women do not need to have the faulty implants removed as a precaution although they may wish to have them taken out if they feel anxious. The MHRA and Department of Health agree with this. 

The Department of Health set up an expert group led by the NHS Medical Director to look at all the available evidence about implants. The expert group is looking at how information about this type of surgery is collected and how this type of surgery is regulated. The Care Quality Commission are also going to review how the clinics are registered and look at how they inspect them.

 

If you are worried

If you have a PIP implant or are not sure which type you have had you should speak to your surgeon or GP.  It depends on whether you had your implant put in within the NHS or the private sector as to how the NHS will care for you.

If you had your implant put in within the NHS they say that

  • They will contact you and tell you that your implant was a PIP implant. They will give you advice and information.
  • You can contact for GP or surgeon yourself if you are worried before they contact you
  • You can have tests to check if your implant has ruptured
  • You will have the implant removed if your surgeon thinks you need to or if you are still worried following your consultation with them – you can have the implant replaced if you want to

If you had your implant put in privately the Department of Health say they are working with the private sector companies to try to make sure you get the same care as people treated within the NHS. You can be seen within the NHS

  • If you are entitled to NHS care
  • The private clinic no longer exists or refuses to care for you

You can have the implant removed within the NHS if having seen a surgeon they think you need it removed or you are still worried. The NHS will not replace the implant in this situation.

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Updated: 30 October 2013