Thursday, January 27, 2011

another voice in the mix

Here's a cheery report for someone who's considering breast reconstruction:

About that Breast Implant/Cancer Risk

WSJ's blog on health and the business of health.

By Katherine Hobson

Breast implants may be associated with a rare form of cancer, the FDA said yesterday.

Anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or ALCL, isn’t breast cancer, but very rarely the disease — which is treatable — can show up there. That’s what has happened with a small number of women who have had implants; their cancers have been found “in the fibrous scar capsule” surrounding the implant, but not in the breast tissue itself, the FDA says.

Here’s a bunch of information from the FDA on the topic.

As the WSJ reports, the number of cases reported thus far is very small. The FDA has identified up to 60 cases and verified 37 in women with breast implants since 1997, out of an estimated 5 million to 10 million who have had the devices implanted. Even assuming 60 cases among 5 million women, that’s about one case per 83,333 women.

That’s higher than the usual incidence of ALCL — only about 1 in 500,000 U.S. women each year gets the disease, and just 3 in 100 million develop it in a breast, according to the FDA — but still tiny.

An Allergan spokeswoman tells the WSJ in a statement that “a woman is more likely to be struck by lightning than get this condition.”

We checked out the official government stats on lightning strikes. The odds being struck by lightning during a given year is between 1 in 500,000 and 1 in 750,000, depending on whether you’re counting reported cases only or estimated cases. Over a lifetime, that risk is 1 in 6,250, the National Weather Service says. But those stats include men and women, and men are four times as likely to be struck than women, according to a study.

It’s not clear what the lifetime risk associated with implants — if in fact there is one — actually is. (Here’s the FDA’s review of the scientific evidence.)

It is clear, however, that women with or without breast implants (and of course men) are far better off focusing on the common health problems most likely to affect them. Cardiovascular disease, for example, killed more than 831,000 people in 2006 alone. And breast cancer — a disease that has not been linked to breast implants — likely killed almost 40,000 women last year.

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