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9 Women Died of Rare Cancer Linked to Breast Implants, FDA Says

Rolon holds one of the silicone gel breast implants manufactured by PIP that she had to have removed, during an interview with Reuters in Buenos AiresRolon holds one of the silicone gel breast implants manufactured by PIP that she had to have removed, during an interview with Reuters in Buenos Aires
Silicone gel breast implants.Marcos Brindicci—Reuters

A least nine deaths have been linked to a rare blood cancer associated with breast implants, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Tuesday.

The FDA first identified a possible connection between breast implants and a cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in 2011. At the time, there were so few cases that a potential link was hard to confirm. But after receiving 359 reports of the cancer being associated with implants, including nine deaths, the FDA has now agreed with the World Health Organization that there is a link.

According to the FDA, 231 of the 359 reports had information about the implant’s surface — whether it was textured or smooth. About 203 of those 231 reported implants with textured surfaces, where only 28 were smooth. Based on this, the FDA concluded that women who get implants with textured surfaces, rather than smooth, are at a higher risk for ALCL, though it’s unclear why. The contents of the implants (saline or silicon) are less significant, the FDA notes — of the 321, 186 were filled with silicon and 126 with saline.

ALCL is rare — more than 300,000 women in the U.S. get breast implants each year, and very few of them develop the cancer. Typically, ALCL develops in the scar tissue surrounding the implant, and symptoms include pain, lumps and swelling. If you have implants (even if you’ve had them for years, as the disease can still form) and are noticing any of these symptoms, the FDA recommends talking to a doctor. If you have implants but are symptomless, the FDA doesn’t recommend removing them.