Can Breast Implants Delay Cancer Misdiagnosis?

Millions of families are affected by breast cancer each year. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, statistics show that one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.

When detected early, this cancer can be treatable. However, a new study has concluded that those who have undergone a breast augmentation may be at an increased risk for delayed breast cancer diagnosis. The results of the study indicate that mammograms are not as effective at detecting abnormalities in those with implants as those that are performed on women without artificial breasts.

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to look for disease in women by indicating any abnormalities in the tissues. Following an abnormal mammogram, a woman may be required to undergo additional screenings to allay or confirm suspicions of breast cancer.

The medical records of 5,005 breast cancer patients were reviewed by researchers at the University of Southern California. These patients had received treatments over the past 15 years to determine whether mammograms were more or less effective at revealing abnormalities in those who had undergone breast augmentations. Researchers found that, among those with implants, the mammograms failed to reveal an existing abnormal condition in 36% of cases. On the other hand, the false-negative rate for mammogram screening in those without breast implants was just 15%.

Both gel and silicone implants are radio opaque to a degree; they appear as white masses or “blobs” in X-rays. In a mammogram, this whitening can obscure the visualization of underlying tissue and make it increasingly challenging to detect abnormalities. Additionally, breast implants may compress and displace the surrounding tissue and potentially cause early warning signs of cancer like small dense masses and micro-calcifications to be distorted in the images of the mammogram.

As more women undergo breast augmentation procedures, healthcare providers should take additional care to ensure that signs of cancer are not overlooked due to an overreliance on mammograms. The earlier the signs or symptoms of breast cancer are discovered, the better the prognosis for the patient, as misdiagnosis can have devastating and often fatal health consequences.