Getting breast implants is a highly personal choice. Whether you find think they are genuinely empowering or find more power in being au naturel, women should be informed of the risks—especially since breast implants are linked to cancer. Now women are demanding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration step up.
Earlier this week the FDA agreed during a public hearing that the agency needs to do more to warn women of the risks of breast implants after hearing powerful testimonies from women like Jamee Cook, a former E.R. paramedic turned patient advocate. She shared that she dealt with serious complications for years: swollen lymph nodes, killer migraines, constant fatigue, and even a low-grade fever, The Washington Post reported. “I was not warned,” about the risks, she told the committee, despite the fact that women have been reporting problems like this after getting implants since the 1960s.
There’s an even more serious risk associated with breast implants: cancer. The link between certain types of breast implants and cancer is long-established—in 2011 the FDA identified a possible connection between implants and a heightened risk of a rare immune system cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (or breast implant associated ALCL). At the time the data was too thin to deter many women (or doctors), but a few more years of research proved the connection. In 2016 the World Health Organization confirmed the link.
This outcome is still pretty rare—so far, the FDA has identified 457 cases of BIA-ALCL in the U.S.—but with more than 300,000 women getting breast implants each year, boosting awareness of the risks is vital to women’s health.
Current efforts by the FDA are a little limp. The agency advises plastic surgeons to warn women about the risks by providing them with educational materials from implant manufacturers and to consider screening for cancers if a patient reports problems with her implants. But is that enough? Advocates at the hearing called for an outright ban on textured implants, which are most frequently associated with BIA-ALCL. At the very least, women deserve an on-the-box warning.
After this week’s hearing, the FDA says it will make a stronger effort to warn women that breast implants are linked to cancer and may come with other health risks, though exactly what that will entail remains to be seen. In the meantime, women will keep fighting.