Cancer survivors with newly banned breast implants fear return of disease
Breast cancer survivors who have textured implants that Health Canada recently banned due to a rare but serious risk of cancer say they are terrified and want the devices taken out of their bodies.
Health Canada says removing the implants is unnecessary, but patients who got them as a result of a previous round of breast cancer say any risk is too much.
Lynda Simpson from Surrey, B.C. has booked a removal procedure at a private clinic in September, at a personal cost of $8,000.
“This is my life. This is my health,” she said.
Lesley Lee from Sidney, B.C., says that having the implants has become a constant source of stress, and she often struggles to sleep.
“Every ache and pain that I feel, there is always that question: is this normal, or is this cancer-related? And there is a certain level of normal daily living stress you have as a cancer survivor,” Lee said.
“And knowing that I have the potential to have cancer in my capsule tissue right now … I am trying to block it out, but it is there,” she added.
Lee is worried that she will have to wait a long time to see a specialist to discuss her options.
“There have been people who died from this because it has not been diagnosed and it has metastasized in their body,” she said. “If I have to wait six months to a year to get these things out, I will have six months of a year not knowing what is happening in my body.”
Textured implants produced by Allergan were pulled from sale by Health Canada after research found that anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, is “significantly higher” in patients with textured breast implants compared to any types.
The rare form of cancer may develop many months or years after a breast implant procedure. Dr. Rob Harrop, the president of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons, says that there are up to 30 known cases of BIA-ALCL in Canada.
Health Canada says there have been no cases of BIA-ALCL reported in Canada with any smooth surface implant - the most common breast implant in Canada.
However, the general advice is that women with the textured implants don’t need to remove them, unless they are experiencing clear signs that cancer is developing, according to Health Canada and medical groups. Symptoms include breast pain, swelling and asymmetry.
But that advice isn’t sitting well with some women who have already endured breast cancer and were told the textured implants were safe.
Patricia Mailman, who had implants put in seven years ago after a double mastectomy, wants them out as soon as possible but is worried about the cost.
“I’m just plain scared,” she said. “I just don’t want the big C-word again.”
“It scares me,” she added. “It stresses me out to know that I can’t financially do this but I have to do this in order to be able to live whatever life I have.”
Dr. Julie Khanna, a plastic surgeon based in Oakville, Ont., stresses that BIA-ALCL is a rare disease and notes that surgery is not being recommended by Health Canada or any other national health organization.
“No one has to do surgery,” she said.
“If you’re comfortable with your implants, you’ve seen your doctor, there’s no concerns, there is no reason you need to run in to have an operation,” she added.
Dr. Khanna said she worries that some doctors promising full removal of implants may be “playing on our patients fears.”
“Patients are being told they have to travel, leave their homes and pay extra for this service,” she said. “I want to make sure all Canadian women make safe choices.”
Some women say they are considering suing the implant-maker for compensation for distress and removal of the implants with some lawyers now considering filing class-action lawsuits on their behalf.
The implants have been taken off shelves in several European countries but still remain available in the U.S.
In a statement to CTV News, Allergan officials said that the company plans to “explore options to appeal this decision with Health Canada” and considers the agency’s decision to ban the sale of their textured implants to be misguided.
“There has been no new clinical evidence reviewing the benefit / risk profile of textured breast implants,” the company said.
Allergan said anyone concerned about the risks of textured breast implants should discuss the matter with their plastic surgeon or other health-care professionals.