The truth about breast implants and breast cancer and how one Tampa woman missed the red flag

TAMPA - Every day, almost a thousand women in the United States surgically boost their breast size, making breast augmentation one of the most popular cosmetic-surgery procedures in the country. 

But a local woman has a warning she wants to share.

What she thought was a problem with her implants turned out to be stage-three breast cancer.

"I've seen a lot of women with breast cancer.  I just never, never thought it could be me."  Gill Green shared her story with a room full of women who understand.  They are all breast cancer patients.  But one part of Gill's story stands out. "The lump was there.  I thought I knew better.  I thought it was something going on with my implant."

Gill's been an RN for 30 years. She thought the lump was scar tissue, so she waited until she needed to get her implants redone and visited her plastic surgeon.  "He took one look. As soon as he looked, I knew."

Doctors diagnosed Gill with stage-three breast cancer.  She was only 47 years old. 

Dr Wayne Lee, a plastic surgeon who does breast reconstruction, explains why women might make that mistake. "Sometimes it is difficult to tell. Whenever surgery is performed on the breast, there is a capsule, a scar capsule that naturally forms around the breast. If it starts to get hard and asymmetric from side to side, it could potentially be abnormal scarring or early signs of breast cancer."

Eight rounds of chemotherapy, thirty-five radiation treatments and eight surgeries followed. Her message to other women with implants: Don't put off getting that mammogram, and double-check anything in your breast that feels different.

"For women who are afraid to come and have their implant possibly rupture, the mammo-techs are highly trained and know what they are doing."  Shelby Coriaty runs the support group at Florida Hospital Tampa and knows many women with implants put off getting mammograms out of fear.

Dr. Lee says as woman near their 40's, mammograms are necessary, implants or not. "The benefit of picking up an early breast cancer is better than potentially rupturing an implant and those rupture rates are pretty low as were getting newer and better implants these days."

Can the implants themselves cause the breast cancer? According to the National Cancer Institute a number of previous studies have shown that the risk of developing breast cancer is less among women with implants compared to women without them.  But if a woman does develop breast cancer, implants could affect the stage at which she is diagnosed, because implants have been reported to decrease the ability to detect breast lesions.

Gill doesn't want others to be in denial. "It's important to stress self examination.  Know your breasts.  Know your implants and know your body and if you find a lump, it is not normal, with or without an implant."

The FDA has identified a possible association between breast implants and the development of ALCL, a rare type of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  ALCL is not cancer of the breast tissue. The FDA believes that women with implants may have a very low but increased risk of developing ALCL adjacent to the breast implant.

For more information about implants and breast cancer go to the national cancer institute's website: http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/siliconeqanda

For more information on ALCL:  http://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/implantsandprosthetics/breastimplants/ucm239995.htm

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