The Lowdown: Cancer and Breast Implants

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When Kimra Rogers learned that the lemon-sized lump under her arm was cancer, she was devastated. When her doctors told her what caused her cancer, she was dumbfounded.  She could not believe that her 17-year-old breast implants caused a rare type of cancer  no one knew about.

 “They basically said implants were 100% safe.”

According to an interview with CBS News, she was never informed that her implants could put her at risk for developing any type of cancer.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated that around half a million women in the United States received breast implants in 2016. Breast augmentation has become a common procedure worldwide. Commonly, women choose to undergo the procedure to improve self-esteem or reconstruct their breasts after breast cancer surgery.

In February 2017, the FDA released a report detailing that 359 cases have been filed related to breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma including nine deaths. It is important to note however, that ALCL is not a form of breast cancer. It is a rare type of lymphoma that develops in the scar tissue around the breast implant. Dr. Mark Clemens, who has been studying ALCL at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, says that the disease is triggered by a prolonged inflammatory state around a breast implant.

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The study also goes on to say that the type of implant can also affect cancer risk, with women with textured implants being more susceptible than those with smooth implants.

Out of the 359 reported  cases, 231 included information on the implant surface. Out of that number,  a 203 ALCL cases were found in women with textured implants. This was compared against the 28 cases which stemmed from smooth breast implants.

Sientra, an implant manufacturer in the US, says that they are taking the results of the report very seriously. A representative for the company says that Sientra is bent on educating the public about ALCL. They want people to know that there is a high cure rate in the early stages with the first step being taking the implants out.

This is where Kimra met her second obstacle.  The insurance company refused to pay for implant removal surgery because she had them for “cosmetic purposes”. Understandably, Kimra was devastated by the news, as her best hope for a cure is being withheld.  After repeated appeals, the insurance company agreed to cover implant removal but not breast reconstruction.

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After her hard-fought battle, Kimra now seeks to educate women about breast implants and health insurance coverage. Indeed,  women have the right to know all the risks and benefits that any procedure may pose on their health. Insurance companies should  be forward with their clients, especially those who are at high risk for developing rare diseases.

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