Ask the Experts: What Happens if You Get Breast Cancer With Implants?

Ask the Experts: What Happens if You Get Breast Cancer With Implants? featured image
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Years of careful research has proven that having breast implants doesn’t increase your risk of cancer. But when breast cancer does happen, does anything change if you have an implant? If you Google “what happens if you get breast cancer with implants,” you’ll get a host of suggested FAQs. Netizens want to know if it’s harder to detect cancer or if cancer automatically means implant removal. It’s clear that most of us just aren’t sure, making it an ideal question to pose to our expert doctors.

Read ahead for a dive into the internet’s most-asked questions regarding breast cancer with implants.

Breast Implants and Cancer

According to an extensive meta-analysis of breast cancer studies, “researchers have consistently found no persuasive evidence of a causal association between breast implants and any type of cancer.”

Still, the Food and Drug Administration carefully monitors breast implant and breast cancer data. And they have acted in the past. In 2019, the agency recalled a type of implant with a textured surface—BIOCELL, manufactured by Allergan. They’ve also reported that cancer in the capsule, the scar tissue surrounding the breast, is very rare, but not impossible.

We know that breast cancer is common, though. Women with implants should consider themselves at the same risk as every woman. That means taking the appropriate steps to monitor their health. Self-exams and regular expert-exams are a vital early detection tool.

“The incidence of breast cancer is 1 in 8 women. Many women have a false sense of security if breast cancer does not run in their families, but many of the women that I see for breast cancer reconstruction do not have a family history,” says Pittsburgh, PA plastic surgeon Jeffrey Antimarino, MD.

What Happens If You Get Breast Cancer With Implants?

“When a patient receives a breast implant, we really want to see them consistently,” explains Pittsburgh plastic surgeon Leo R. McCafferty. “Ideally, they’re being examined every year. In those cases, we’re likely to catch things.”

Routine physical exams as well as ultrasound and other imaging tests are how doctors spot potentially cancerous masses. Experts use the same tools to monitor the health of your implant. Your plastic surgeon is intimately familiar with what a healthy implant is supposed to look like. Any changes that could be a cancerous mass tends to be an easily spotted red flag. Additionally, being a consistent patient also means it’s easy to compare your current results to prior tests.

“Additionally, if a tumor or mass develops above the implant, the device tends to push that mass outward, making it very easy to see,” Dr. McCafferty adds.

Treating Breast Cancer With Implants

According to research, mammograms may have a harder time detecting tumors when implants are present, but make it easier to detect them in physical exams. That’s likely due to the “pushing” effect that Dr. McCafferty described. That said, mammograms are accurate enough with implants to still be considered the most reliable tool for early detection. Implants may impair mammography but appear to facilitate tumor detection on physical examination.

Not much about the treatment of breast cancer changes if you have an implant.

“Occasionally, plastic surgeons are called in to remove an implant if that’s necessary,” Dr. McCafferty says. “But most of the time, treatment is so targeted and the surgeons and radiologists are so precise that the implant is not an issue or at risk itself.”


If an implant does need to be removed, that can impact breast conservation, making a reconstruction more likely. That said, breast implants are a critical tool in breast reconstruction, and are one of many options available to women post-mastectomy.

“If a woman needs radiation therapy after a breast cancer diagnosis, having implants in place can affect the angle of the of the radiation beam,” explains Concord, CA plastic surgeon Eric Mariotti, MD. “Sometimes women with very large implants might temporarily need a smaller implant placed in order to have the best radiation treatment.”

Additionally, Dr. Mariotti explains that there the reconstruction process is sometimes even easier on women who have previously had implants.

“I believe that women who have implants then need a mastectomy can often come away with a better, more aesthetically appearing breast reconstruction,” Dr. Mariotti says. “The skin is already stretched so when the breast is removed with a skin-sparing mastectomy, and a larger implant is placed to make up for that volume, there is often no more stretch needed and the muscle has already been lifted so they don’t have that recovery. I say this not as a reason to get implants in the first place, but it can make the reconstruction easier and even look better in some women.”

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