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Breast implants may make cancer harder to find

Breast implant manufacturing_Reuters_Feb 21 2013.jpg

Technicians work in the processing of silicone gel breast implants.REUTERS/Benoit Tessie

Breast implants may make it more difficult to detect breast cancer at an early stage, a new analysis suggests.

In the study of women with breast cancer, those with breast implants tended to be diagnosed at a later stage than women without implants.

However, the findings are preliminary, and more research is needed to confirm them.

Breast implants themselves are not thought to increase the risk of breast cancer, but there has been concern that implants may impair doctors' ability to view breast tissue with mammograms. Earlier studies looking at this issue have had mixed results.

The new study analyzed information from 12 previous studies involving women with breast cancer who either did have or did not have breast implants. Together, these studies included women living in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Women with breast implants were 26 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a late stage, compared to women without breast implants. However, this finding did not quite rise to the level of "significant," meaning it could have been due to chance.

In a separate analysis of an additional five studies of women with breast cancer, women with implants were 38 percent more likely to die of the disease than women without implants.

This second finding should also be interpreted with caution, the researchers said, because some of the studies didn't take into account factors that could influence breast cancer risk, such as obesity.

The new findings are not definitive, but suggest that the effect of breast implants on mammograms may be more of an issue than previously thought, said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in N.Y., who was not involved in the study.

Future studies should be designed to specifically examine the link between breast implants and risk of later-stage breast cancer, perhaps by recording information from breast implant patients into databases, Bernik said.

If it turns out that breast implants do, indeed, make it harder to detect breast cancer on mammograms, additional screening methods, such as ultrasound, may be considered, Bernik said.

For now, "women should be aware that if they have implants placed, breast cancer detection might be more difficult," Bernik said.

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