New Study: Slower Diagnosis of Breast Cancer in Women With Implants
Breast cancer affects millions of families every year. After skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among American women. One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime.
Fortunately, when detected early, breast cancer can be quite treatable. However, according to a new study, women who have undergone a breast augmentation may be at a higher risk for delayed breast cancer diagnosis. The results of the study indicate that mammograms are less effective at picking up abnormalities in women with breast implants.
Mammograms Less Than Half as Effective for Women With Breast Augmentations
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that is used to look for breast diseases in women. When anything out of the ordinary turns up on a mammogram, follow-up screening is used to confirm or allay suspicions of breast cancer.
Researchers at the University of Southern California reviewed the medical records of 5,005 breast cancer patients who had received treatment over the course of the last 15 years to determine whether mammograms were any less effective at revealing breast abnormalities present in women who had undergone breast augmentations. The results were startling: among those patients with breast implants, mammograms failed to reveal an existing abnormality in 36 percent of cases. In contrast, the false-negative rate for mammogram screening among non-augmented women was just 15 percent.
Both silicone and gel implants are radio opaque to some degree; this means they appear as white “blobs” in x-rays. In a mammography, this whitening out can obscure the visualization of underlying breast tissue, making it more challenging to detect irregularities. In addition, implants may displace and compress surrounding breast tissue, potentially causing early warning signs of cancer like micro calcifications and small dense masses to be distorted in mammogram imagery.
The findings of the University of Southern California study were presented at the 2011 American Society of Breast Surgeons’ annual meeting.
A Special Responsibility for Doctors
Mammography is the preferred examination method for breast cancer screening, and its widespread use has contributed to the decreasing rate of breast cancer mortality. But, in 2010, nearly 300,000 women underwent breast augmentation surgery, a 39 percent increase compared to 2000.
As more women receive breast implants, physicians should take special care to ensure that cancer signs are not overlooked due to an overreliance on mammogram technology. Women with breast implants should consider asking their physician for a clinical breast exam (in which a health professional feels the breasts for lumps) or an MRI breast scan to supplement a mammogram. In addition, breast ultrasounds (also known as sonographic screening) have been shown to be a valuable supplement to mammograms, especially in women with unusually dense breasts. Utilizing any of these alternative cancer-detecting technologies can lead to better patient outcomes.
The earlier signs of breast cancer are discovered, the better the prognosis for the patient; misdiagnosis can have severe, often deadly health consequences. If a doctor failed to immediately detect breast cancer in you or a loved one, contact a medical malpractice attorney today to explore your legal options.