Complications arising from breast enlargement surgery are relatively uncommon, but the procedure is by no means without risk. One of the most pressing concerns of breast augmentation patients is cancer: not in the context of cancer developing from implants, but in respect to implants affecting the chances of cancer being detected.
Thus, some prospective patients are questioning whether breast enhancement surgery is as safe as some cosmetic surgeons would have them believe.
According to various sources, more than half a million women undergo breast enhancement surgery in the U.S. each year. To date, millions of women have opted for breast augmentation for one reason or another.
Before discussing the risks of breast enhancement surgery in the context of cancer screening, it is worth noting that the types of implant provided to patients have evolved markedly since the procedure was introduced half a century ago.
Thus, older implants are likely to carry greater risks than newer implants.
When dealing with as sensitive a topic as breast cancer, it is useful to look at statistics for a detailed, objective view of the associated risks of cosmetic surgery. According to the latest data provided by health bodies in the States, breast implants can obscure breast cancer detection by as much as 50 per cent. However, results are by no means the same for all patients.
While 50 per cent of breast tissue can be obscured by implants, some patients undergoing mammography (X-ray screening for breast abnormalities) might suffer no complications whatsoever. As estimates of obscuration vary from 15 per cent to 50 per cent, it cannot be said with any degree of confidence that all breast implants cause problems on mammograms.
However, breast implants do cause some degree of obscuration, so it is essential that women are armed with sufficient knowledge of the risks before undergoing breast enhancement surgery. To more or less the same extent, gel and silicone breast implants are radio opaque, which simply means that they appear on X-rays, usually as white lumps or blobs. If implants are visible on mammograms, early signs of breast cancer may prove undetectable if obscuration is especially high.
It is sometimes that cases that scar tissue calcifications produced during or after breast enhancement surgery are mistaken for calcifications associated with breast cancer. False positive results can cause considerable anxiety among women, many of whom would be required to undergo further testing to establish the presence of cancer. A false positive, of course, is far better than a false negative, which can sometimes occur in women who have undergone breast enhancement surgery.
Considering that mammograms have been shown to significantly decrease the number of patients who die from breast cancer each year, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of certain types of breast enhancement surgery.
Breast implants that are inserted beneath the pectorals (chest muscles) tend to cause substantially less obscuration because they hide less of the breast tissue. Implants placed above the chest muscle and beneath the breast tissue cause more obscuration on average. Options for breast implant placement need to be discussed with the consulting physician.
Finally, it is worth adding that several studies in the U.S. and Europe have shown that women with breast implants are subject to a marginally reduced risk of developing breast cancer in comparison with women who do not have implants. The reasons for this could be incidental, but one explanation is that the implants help to eliminate cancer-producing cells by stimulating a specific immune response in the body.