Early detection is critical for people with breast cancer. So, frequent screenings are recommended to catch cancerous lumps before they grow bigger. However, it can be challenging for women with breast implants to detect cancer using standard imaging techniques.

Breast Implants

Can Breast Implants Affect Diagnostic Tests?

Studies have shown differences in breast cancer diagnosis between women with breast implants and women without implants. Although women with breast implants do not have a higher overall risk of breast cancer, they are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage cancers, and consequently, have a higher mortality rate. This is believed to be due to the way that breast implants interact with cancer screening tools.

Standard X-ray imaging tools, such as a mammogram, may have trouble penetrating the saline or silicone implant materials. This means the breast tissue covered by the implant can’t be seen in the mammogram images.

How to Detect Breast Cancer with Breast Implants

There are several methods used to identify breast cancer. Early detection is crucial for effective treatment, so heathcare professionals recommend yearly screenings and frequent self-monitoring. Women with breast implants may need more frequent screening exams due to the slightly elevated risk of BIA-ALCL. Some standard detection methods used include:


Self-examinations remain the best method for regularly checking for abnormalities in your breasts. John Hopkins reports that up to 40% of breast cancers are detected during a self-examination.

In some cases, breast implants can make it easier to detect changes in your breasts during a self-exam. Submuscular and subglandular implants are placed behind the breast tissue, so the lumps and abnormalities are more prominent. However, you need to adjust the technique you use to check your breasts if you have had a breast augmentation.

Checking your breasts if you have implants is best performed while lying down. Extend the arm, on the same side as the breast you are examining, upward. Hold your fingers flat and press firmly into the armpit, breast tissue, and upper chest. Gently squeeze your nipple to check for discharge.

If you have recently had breast augmentation or reconstructive surgery, most plastic surgeons recommend avoiding self-examines for at least six weeks to avoid disrupting the healing process.

Mammogram imaging

Diagnostic and screening mammograms are crucial techniques for early cancer detection. A trained mammogram radiographer places your breasts one at a time, between two imaging plates during a mammogram. These plates put moderate pressure on your breasts to spread the breast tissue while the mammographer takes the X-rays. Spreading the breast tissue provides clearer images.

In a standard mammogram, the tech takes two images of each breast; one lateral image and another diagonal image. You will need to rearrange your breast position between the two images to get the most accurate view.

If you have breast implants, your radiographer will take four extra images (in addition to the standard four images) of your breast during a mammogram to get a more comprehensive view of your breast tissue. These additional images are called implant displacement (ID) views.

ID views are challenging to obtain and can be uncomfortable for the patient, especially for women with excess scar tissue around the implant. The breast implant is pushed back against the chest wall to get accurate images, and the remaining breast tissue is pulled forward.

Breast ultrasound

A breast ultrasound is not typically used on its own to diagnose breast cancer. However, it can be a useful secondary tool to view and confirm abnormalities detected during a screening mammography or physical exam.

A breast ultrasound is also used for patients with breast implants to gain a more in-depth view of the breast tissue.

During your ultrasound, the technician applies a lubricating gel to your breast to facilitate better imaging and allow the transducer wand to glide more easily. They move the wand around your breasts and armpits to capture images from every angle. The wand sends out soundwaves that echo off structures inside your chest wall, producing images.

Needle biopsy

If your doctor cannot make a definitive cancer diagnosis from imaging methods, they may prescribe a needle biopsy. A needle biopsy is a way to take a breast tissue sample to analyze under a microscope. The procedure involves inserting a hollow needle with a cutting tool attachment into your breast tissue.

If you have breast implants, there is a small risk that the needle could damage the implant.

Breast Implants Risks

Do Breast Implants Increase the Risk of Cancer?

Breast implants do not increase your risk of developing cancer or suffering from a cancer recurrence. Breast cancer risk factors include age, a family history of cancer, being overweight, smoking, and having specific genetic markers.

However, breast implants have been linked with a type of blood cancer called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). However, this type of cancer is extremely rare. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that as of 2019, there were only 809 confirmed cases of BIA-ALCL worldwide.

BIA-ALCL is primarily associated with textured implants. The FDA reports 457 cases of BIA-ALCL, and more than 300 of these cases had textured implants.

Can I Still Recieve Breast Cancer Treatment With Implants?

Women with breast implants can still receive treatment for breast cancer. However, the treatment can affect the appearance of your implants, and the implants could reduce the efficacy of some treatments.

For women undergoing radiotherapy, the radiation can cause fibrous tissue to develop around the implants. This can lead to a condition called capsular contracture. Capsular contracture is when the scar tissue around the implant tightens and can deform the appearance of your implants. In severe cases, capsular contracture can cause intense pain, and the implants may need to be removed.

If you need a mastectomy, your surgeon may need to remove or shift the location of your implant to excise the cancerous tissue.

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