Women with breast implants are not more likely to develop breast cancer than women without breast implants. Since the material of a breast implant cannot be x-rayed, many are quick to assume the implant increases the risk of breast cancer. This is incorrect and misleading. While breast implants do affect the method of how a mammogram is performed, they do not prevent breast augmentation patients from receiving a mammogram completely.
There is also no conclusive evidence proving women with breast implants are diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage than women without implants— which would need to be true if breast implants delayed the detection of breast cancer. Likewise, women with breast implants do not have a higher breast cancer mortality rate compared to women without breast implants.
Read on to learn the facts behind breast implants and breast cancer detection.
Receiving a Mammogram with Breast Implants
A mammogram is a low dose x-ray used for breast cancer detection before a patient begins to experience symptoms. Many women that have undergone a breast augmentation express concern whether their breast implants can rupture during a mammogram. This is an extremely rare occurrence. Silicone-gel implants are highly cohesive and greatly reduce any chance of rupture. Breast implants placed behind the muscle of the chest wall are even less at risk. To reduce any risk further, always inform the technician of your breast implants before a mammogram.
Most breast implants are made of saline or silicone, which can obscure mammogram x-rays. Since it is impossible to obtain a mammogram image directly through a breast implant, some are quick to claim breast implants impede mammogram visibility completely. While it is true that a direct x-ray through the breast implant impedes the visibility of breast cancer during a mammogram— to claim that mammograms become altogether impossible is misleading. In fact, most mammogram technicians are trained to effectively position an augmented breast around the curved surface of the implant to ensure the breast tissue is visible in the mammogram results.
Ways to Mammogram Women with Breast Implants
While breast implants affect how a mammogram is performed, they do not prevent breast augmentation patients from receiving a mammogram altogether. As mentioned above, mammogram technicians are trained in techniques to x-ray women with breast implants.
While there are several methods of positioning an augmented breast during a mammogram, the Eklund displacement views is the most utilized. The Eklund Displacement Views method works by pushing the implant against the chest wall. The breast tissue is then pulled forward away from the implant into the compression paddle chamber so that non-implant breast tissue is visible in the x-ray.
The type of breast augmentation, or the position of the breast implants around the muscle, also plays a role the effectiveness of performing a mammogram. Some implants are placed in a way that reduces a radiologist's ability to fully x-ray the breast tissue without affecting the implant. This occurs when breast implants are placed immediately behind the breast in the sub-mammary or sub-glandular position. For this reason, sub-pectoral implant positioning is preferred— ensuring patients receive the best look and the best chance for early detection in screenings.
If you have breast implants, be sure to tell your mammogram technician you do. This way your technician implements the proper positioning method for your exam.
Alternative Breast Cancer Detection Tests for Women with Breast Implants
While a mammogram is the most commonly recommended exam for breast cancer detection, it has its limitations. Studies show mammograms contribute to a high number of false positives. These lead to fear, worry, and unnecessary biopsies when cancer is actually not present in the breast tissue. Mammograms also contribute to false negatives, which are counterintuitive to early detection. When it comes to detecting breast cancer, there are several alternatives to mammograms.
Breast implants do not interfere with patient self-examination or physician breast examination. These are at least as important, if not more than, regular mammograms in breast cancer detection.
When it comes to prevention, regular self and physician examinations are key, but studies show high-contract MRIs can be as good as— if not better equipped— to detect breast cancer in patients with breast implants because of their non-radiological nature. In fact, a contrast-enhanced MRI scan is the most sensitive and specific alternative for early breast cancer detection. This type of MRI is enhanced by an intravenous agent that provides contrast in the resulting image when a cancerous lump is present. While more invasive than a mammogram, a breast MRI uses magnetic fields to capture images of breast tissue instead of the radiation exposure during an x-ray in a mammogram. Since an MRI is a magnetic scan and not an x-ray between two compression paddles, breast implants don’t interfere with the quality of the exam.
Many women receive a breast MRI in conjunction with or instead of a mammogram. Women who had cancerous tissue removed will opt for an MRI instead of a mammogram. It’s also true for women who are at a higher risk of breast cancer, as an MRI shows a physician more about the size, shape, and spread of a tumor.
If you’re considering a breast augmentation and would like to learn more about breast implants and breast cancer detection, schedule a consultation with Dr. Scott Rotatori, MD, Orlando’s leading plastic surgeon!