Breast augmentation can cause cancer of the immune system

By Anna E. Mazzucco, Ph.D. Updated 2014.



A study published in December 2013 shows that a cancer of the immune system can be caused by breast implants, anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL), and can be fatal (see our summary of that study here).

The study by cancer researchers at the well-respected MD Anderson Cancer Center included women who had breast implants for cosmetic reasons as well as those who had implants after a mastectomy. The researchers studied women with implants for 5 years after their diagnosis of ALCL and found that some of the women needed chemotherapy and approximately 25% of the implant patients with the more serious type of ALCL died during those 5 years.1

ALCL caused by breast implants can result in swelling, which is often mistaken for an infection and treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are not effective against ALCL and the delay in timely and appropriate treatment for ALCL is dangerous. Dr. Anna Mazzucco of the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund published a response to this study,2 urging physicians to respond quickly and to check patients who have swelling near their implants for ALCL. This would require cytology testing rather than testing for bacteria. The authors of the original study also published a response to Dr. Mazzucco’s article, expressing similar concerns.3

Unfortunately, some health insurance companies have traditionally not covered the cost of medical tests or treatment for women with breast problems related to cosmetic breast implants. The latest studies clearly indicate that this can result in undetected cancer of the immune system (ALCL), which can be fatal. In addition, delays in treatment for ALCL can be extremely expensive for patients and their insurance companies; the companies would be required to pay for treatment for ALCL when it is eventually diagnosed at a later stage.


  1. Miranda RN, Aladily TN, Prince HM, et al: Breast implant–associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma: Long-term follow-up of 60 patients. J Clin Oncol 32:114-120, 2014.  
  2. Mazzucco, AE. Next Steps for Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large-Cell Lymphoma. J Clin Oncol, 2014. Early Release publication. June 16, 2014.  
  3. Miranda RN. Reply to AE Mazzucco. J Clin Oncol, 2014. Early Release publication. June 16, 2014.