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Breast Implants and Mammograms: What to Know

by Gary K. Johnson

Today, breast augmentation is the second most performed plastic surgery in America. If you’re one of the many women who has breast implants, or if you’re considering getting this procedure done, it is important to know exactly how it affects your health.

Breast Cancer: What Doesn’t Cause It

Before we get into that, however, it should be noted that there is no data whatsoever to indicate that breast implants cause cancer. This topic was raised back in the 90s and led to many clinical studies being done, none of which proved causality of cancer from implants.

In general, implants should not impact a woman’s breast care schedule. She should follow the same guidelines as a woman without implants, with includes examining herself each month and getting mammograms every year once she reaches the age of 40.

Implants and Mammographic Imagery

Unfortunately, implants and mammograms don’t exactly play well with one another. Given the nature of silicone implants, mammographic technology has a hard time “seeing” the portion of the breast behind the implants. Exactly how much of the breast is obscured depends on the placement of the implant. Those placed beneath the pectoral muscle are less likely to distort a mammographic image than those situated above. (About half of breast implant procedures have them placed above the muscle, the other half below.) Some studies claim that implants obscure between 15 percent of breast tissue; others claim a much larger 50 percent.

Another factor making trouble for mammogram interpreters is scar tissue. This tissue naturally forms around the implant capsule and indeed any foreign material placed inside the body. Calcium deposits can form in this scar tissue, which can sometimes lead to false positives.

Despite potential increased mammographical difficulty, a women should never forego regular mammograms. Mammograms are still an extremely effective way to screen for breast cancer in women with and without breast implants.

The Good News

Offsetting mammographic obfuscation to some degree is the fact that implants may help diagnosis by self-examination. An implant makes it easier for a woman to feel even small lumps in her breast against the implant’s smooth, even surface.

Another good tidbit of good news is that mammographers, given ample experience, can learn how to better examine a breast containing an implant. For this reason, you should always ask your regular doctor for a referral to a clinic whose radiologists have experience reading mammograms of women with breast implants. Ask the clinic about their experience when you make your appointment.

For more information on breast implants and how they may impact breast cancer detection, it is best to consult with a licensed breast surgeon near you. Contact us to schedule a private consultation today.

 

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