Mammograms for Women With Breast Implants

Women over age 50 with breast implants have different considerations than younger women. Harvard Medical School recommends mammograms every two years after age 50. Breast implants could impact a mammogram and other types of breast cancer screenings. This does not, however, mean women with breast implants should skip mammograms. They should simply be aware of factors that may apply to them during mammograms as women with saline or silicone breast implants.

Who Should Get Mammograms?

Mammograms are important screening tools. They are imaging tests doctors use in conjunction with a patient’s medical history and/or symptoms to diagnose breast cancer. Only 2 to 4 mammograms in 1,000 lead to breast cancer diagnoses, according to the American Cancer Society. Mammograms only take about 20 minutes to complete and require the patient to sit for an imaging test with the bare breasts compressed for better image quality. A mammogram may take slightly longer for women with breast implants.

Every woman should get mammograms every two years starting at 50 years old, according to the latest recommendations from Harvard. Women ages 40 to 50 may also receive mammograms if they have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors. Mammograms are more difficult to read in younger women, making them more likely to come back with suspicious results. Females should get mammograms every two years between ages 50 and 74. At age 74, research does not give recommendations as to whether or not women should continue getting mammograms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Women with breast implants often have questions concerning mammograms. While it is true implants can complicate mammograms, women with breast implants should still start getting them at age 50. Answering a few frequently asked questions could quell a patient’s concerns over getting a mammogram with breast implants.

  • Are mammograms safe? Yes, mammograms are safe for women with breast implants. Breast implant rupture is extremely rare during mammograms. Experienced mammography technologists can move the implant out of the way and only compress the breast tissue. However, older breast implants or those with weakened structures have higher odds of rupturing or leaking during mammograms. In some cases, mammography could detect a breast implant leak or rupture the patient did not know about.
  • Is it harder to detect breast cancer? Yes, it could be more difficult to detect breast cancer with breast implants. The implants could obscure the image of the breast and make it harder to see tumors. Placing the implants in front of the pectoral muscle can make imaging even harder. The physician will have to move the implant to see the breast tissue underneath. The physician may need to take more pictures than with other patients, leading to a longer mammography process.
  • Can implants cause cancer? The risk of breast cancer does not increase with breast implants. However, breast implants could cause a type of lymphoma called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). Mammograms will not detect this type of cancer. Instead, an analysis of the fluids surrounding the breast implant could diagnose BIA-ALCL. A patient should see a doctor after experiencing any potential symptoms of BIA-ALCL, such as pain or swelling.

Some patients may need additional MRIs or ultrasounds if breast implants get in the way of mammogram imaging. During a mammogram with implants, patients should communicate openly and honestly with their physicians. If a patient worries about rupturing an implant, for example, the technologist may be able to reposition the breast to avoid squeezing the implant. The technologist should also maneuver the implant around to get a clearer view of the underlying breast tissue for more accurate diagnoses. Voicing fears, concerns and questions before a mammogram could help the process go more smoothly for the patient.

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