According to leading breast cancer surgeon Associate Professor Sanjay Warrier, breast implants do not increase your chances of developing breast cancer, but they don’t prevent it either. As a result, women with breast implants must have regular check-ups and screening.
“Breast cancer risk is tied closely to a number of factors, including being older, overweight, lifestyle, having a family history of breast cancer, or inheriting certain genetic mutations linked to breast cancer,” Associate Professor Warrier said.
According to Associate Professor Warrier, as your breast screening may be slightly different to a standard screening mammogram due to your implants, he has collated six things you must know about breast screening and implants so that you feel empowered and prepared ahead of your next appointment.
Get to know your new normal
According to Associate Professor Warrier, if you have had a breast augmentation or reconstruction, or you are even thinking about a procedure involving implants, you must get to know your new body.
“Becoming familiar with the implant is an important part of the recovery process after a breast augmentation. Once an implant is in place, I recommend that all patients have a conversation with their surgeon so that they can tell what is breast tissue and what is implant,” Associate Professor Warrier explained.
“If women are concerned about a lump but think it may just be their implant, I urge them to get it checked anyway. In many cases, women with implants, particularly those with saline implants, may mistake a bulge for their implant – but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Never ignore something that you wouldn’t before getting implants.”
Implants can hide breast cancer on a screening mammogram
“A lot of women do not know that the x-ray machinery used in mammograms do not sufficiently penetrate saline or silicone, such as that of an implant,” Associate Professor Warrier said.
“Depending on where a cancer is located in the breast tissue, it can be more difficult to find on a mammogram. While it is totally manageable for a mammogram technologist, and does not affect someone with implants survival rate from breast cancer, it definitely makes things a little tougher.”
Make your implants known
According to Dr Warrier, there are three key things to do when booking in a breast screening if you have implants. Firstly, let the person you are making the appointment with aware, secondly, remind the mammogram technologist about your implants when you attend your appointment, and thirdly, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns at all about conducting a screening with your implants.
“The technologist needs to know two things before your screening kicks off – how to position you and how much compression to use. Both of these things are significantly different for people with and without implants,” Associate Professor Warrier said.
Extra images may be taken
“A standard mammogram involves looking at two views of each breast, which is four pictures in total. However, women with implants usually require a couple of additional views of each breast in order to detect cancers that may be obscured by implants,” Associated Professor Warrier explained.
Additional screening may be recommended
According to Associate Professor Warrier, mammograms are the tool of choice for breast cancer screenings – however when implants are involved doctors often recommend additional imaging.
“Typically we only do ultrasound screening for women who are at high risk of breast cancer or women who have dense breast tissue, but if the radiologist has trouble seeing breast tissue because of implants a screening ultrasound is a good option to yield some details that may not show up in an x-ray,” Associate Professor Warrier said.
Mammograms pose a small risk to implants
“Implant ruptures are a rare but a possible risk when undergoing a regular mammogram or needle biopsy. However, it must be emphasised that the benefit of mammography outweighs the risks of rupture,” Associate Professor Warrier added.
“In a mammogram, an experienced technologist will carefully compress the breasts of women with implants without a risking a rupture. The breast needs to be drawn out just enough to push the implant against the chest wall so that more breast tissue can be examined.
“Similarly, needle biopsies are also conducted with a high degree of care. In women with implants, this can be a risky procedure depending on where the lump is located – it is important to be aware of these risks and to ensure your physician is aware of your implants.
“Mammogram is not usually the choice before the age of 35. At this time, we tend to do ultrasound unless there is a palpable lump. From age 40, the choice is for mammogram.”
Associate Professor Sanjay Warrier is the immediate past President and current committee member of Breast Surgeons of Australia and New Zealand (BreastSurgANZ). His views are those of his own, not BreastSurgANZ. Associate Professor Warrier’s surgery is located at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. He is published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and won the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s Patron’s Prize for best scientific research.