BIA-ALCL | Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma

Breast implants with textured shells can cause cancer. Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL, is a rare but deadly form of cancer that can develop in women with breast implants. When a breast implant causes excessive irritation within the chest, it can damage the cells and cause a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. BIA-ALCL is cancer of the immune system that typically remains in the fluids and tissues near the breast implant, but can spread throughout the body.

New information about BIA-ALCL has led to the recent recall of Allergan textured breast implants and tissue expanders. Allergan made the voluntary recall as a precaution against the possibility of patients developing anaplastic large cell lymphoma. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found evidence that women with Allergan textured implants are almost six times more likely to develop BIA-ALCL, compared to women with other types of implants.

This type of cancer can be deadly, and at the very least will lead to the removal of the implants and possibly surrounding tissues. Two premier South California law firms, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP and Bentley & More LLP, are banding together to help victims impacted by the Allergan recall. If you or a loved one is suffering from BIA-ALCL after receiving Allergan or other types of breast implants, speak to our attorneys. Call today for a free and confidential case review with one of our lawyers.

Allergan Breast Implant Cancer

Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma is not breast cancer. It is a rare form of lymphoma, or cancer of the immune system. Lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes throughout the body collect waste and bacteria that exist outside the bloodstream, helping to protect you from viruses and illnesses. The lymphatic system plays a key role in your health.

Each type of lymphoma responds to treatments differently. Most people with lymphoma have non-Hodgkin rather than Hodgkin lymphoma. Although a patient with BIA-ALCL (or another type of lymphoma) generally has a positive outlook, this type of cancer could be deadly if left untreated. The FDA reports 33 known deaths related to BIA-ALCL worldwide. BIA-ALCL can start in the fluids and tissues surrounding the breast implant but in some cases, could spread throughout the body through the lymphatic system.

What Are the Symptoms of Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma?

Patients report symptoms of BIA-ALCL anywhere from 3 to 14 years after receiving breast implants. Some patients may notice signs of something amiss right away, while others may gradually realize things feel abnormal over time. A patient with anaplastic large cell lymphoma from breast implants will mainly notice symptoms of this type of cancer in the chest. The most common symptom is persistent pain around the implants.

Other signs of the disease include:

  • Pain, especially to the touch
  • Persistent swelling
  • Fluid accumulation around the implants (seroma)
  • Lumps under the skin
  • Capsular contracture (thick and potentially painful scar tissue around the implants)

If you have breast implants and notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor about a possible BIA-ALCL diagnosis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are integral to your prognosis for recovery. BIA-ALCL is treatable if a patient acts quickly to remove the cancerous cells and possibly receive additional treatments such as chemotherapy. Talking to your doctor about breast implant cancer could help you understand your risks and treatment options.

How Is BIA-ALCL Diagnosed?

Once a patient with breast implants or tissue expanders complains of possible BIA-ALCL symptoms, a physician will try to diagnose the condition with steps such as a physical exam, taking medical images of the breasts, and analyzing the fluids or tissues around the implants. Drawing a fluid sample and sending it to a lab, for example, could help a doctor discover if the fluid contains the marker for anaplastic large cell lymphoma. This tumor marker is the CD30 antigen. If lab results come back positive for this marker, the patient could have anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Again, BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer. Aside from seeing a doctor if a patient experiences potential symptoms of BIA-ALCL, every woman over the age of 50 should also receive mammograms to check for breast cancer. Breast implants could make it more difficult to spot tumors in breast tissues. An experienced mammography technician, however, will know how to move the implant out of the way of the imaging technology to get a clearer picture of the underlying tissues. Knowing the possible complications a breast implant could cause can help you stay on top of your health and well-being.

Do Breast Implants Cause Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma?

Yes, breast implants can cause anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Developing this cancer, however, is not a guarantee. Until recently, the FDA and other health organizations did not know much about breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma. It was not until 2011 that researchers identified the connection between breast implants and cancer. Over the last eight years, the FDA and health organizations in the United States and other countries have studied the occurrence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in people with breast implants and breast tissue expanders. The information they gathered is what led to the recall of Allergen products due to an increased risk of patients developing this rare cancer.

  • Breast implants can irritate the surrounding tissues in the chest, causing excess fluid to build up. The irritation could also damage cells, leading to cancer cell growth in the affected area.
  • Statistically, a breast implant with a textured surface poses a higher threat to patients than smooth-shell implants. FDA analysis showed 385 patients with BIA-ALCL with textured implants, compared to 26 with smooth implants (as of July 6th, 2019).
  • 481 out of 573 (81%) known cases of BIA-ALCL have Allergan breast implant products involved. The FDA has recommended that plastic surgeons stop using Allergan textured implants.
  • Silicone vs. saline implants does not appear to affect the risk of developing BIA-ALCL. Both types could cause lymphoma if they have textured shells that cause irritation.
  • Breast tissue expanders with a textured surface could also cause BIA-ALCL, even though they are typically only in the patient for six months. The FDA has limited information on how these products could increase the risk of BIA-ALCL.

The Allergan recall highlights the possible threat of anaplastic large cell lymphoma with breast implants. Note that while there have been hundreds of confirmed cases of this type of lymphoma connected to breast implants, the risk of developing this disease is still very low. Hundreds of thousands of women have received breast implants and only 573 have been diagnosed with BIA-ALCL.

Can You Die From BIA-ALCL?

The risk of death from BIA-ALCL is low, especially if diagnosed early and treated promptly. One study found patients with BIA-ALCL had a 93% survival rate at three years and an 89% survival rate at five years. Most patients recover from BIA-ALCL with proper treatment. That being said, it is a serious diagnosis that could be fatal for some patients. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can spread throughout the lymphatic system and the rest of the body, leading to terminal cancer.

FDA data, however, shows 33 deaths from BIA-ALCL. Of these deaths, researchers only know the manufacturer’s name in 13 cases. In 12 of these 13 cases, the breast implant brand was Allergan. Early recognition and diagnosis are critical for patients with BIA-ALCL. Knowing the symptoms of this rare cancer can help you seek a physician’s assistance right away. As soon as you notice any pain, tenderness, swelling or other issues with your breast implant, make an appointment for an evaluation. The removal of your implants or tissue expanders may be necessary to treat your disease.

How Do Doctors Treat BIA-ALCL?

Past cases of BIA-ALCL have found cancerous cells mostly near the breast implant, often contained in the fluids and scar capsule surrounding the implant. It is natural for the body to build a fibrous scar capsule around the implants as a way to protect itself from the foreign objects. This scar tissue usually does not pose a threat unless it begins to harden and/or tighten around the implants (capsular contracture).

In most cases of BIA-ALCL, the removal of the implants and scar capsules is enough to eradicate cancer cells. BIA-ALCL is usually present in these areas, not in the patient’s breast tissues. Removing the scar capsule takes a more extensive surgical procedure than removing the implants alone. In more serious cases, the patient may also require additional treatments such as chemotherapy to fight the cancer.

What To Do if You Think You May Have BIA-ALCL

If you think you may have BIA-ALCL, your doctor can refer you to a specialist for further tests. A lymphoma specialist can test fluid or tissue samples and take other steps to diagnose you with BIA-ALCL. If you do have this disease, follow the specialist’s instructions for how to proceed. Most patients will require removal of the implants to treat BIA-ALCL.

If you do not have BIA-ALCL, but still worry about developing this disease as someone with Allergan breast implants or expanders, talk to your doctor about your options. In the Allergan recall announcement, the FDA did not recommend patients with Allergan breast implants to get the implants removed or replaced if they were not experiencing any symptoms. However, this is your choice. You may want to schedule removal for peace of mind, even without symptoms. Whether you choose to keep or remove your implants, contact an attorney for assistance with a potential claim.

Contact Our Attorneys Today

The personal injury, product liability and wrongful death attorneys at two major law firms in Southern California are working together to help patients with BIA-ALCL. Panish Shea & Boyle LLP and Bentley & More LLP have attorneys who dedicate their lives to fighting for justice for others.

If a doctor has recently diagnosed you with BIA-ALCL, contact our breast implant recall attorneys for a free and confidential consultation. We can review your case and help you understand what rights you may have to legal recourse. A lawsuit against Allergan could eventually lead to compensation for your damages, including the costs of cancer treatments and the removal of your implants (even without a cancer diagnosis). Call today for counsel from one of our attorneys.

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