Breast implants make it more difficult to detect breast cancer. If you are considering getting breast implants or already have breast implants, it is important to know how they can make mammography and breast exams less accurate.
Mammography is used to screen for and detect breast cancer. Breast implants make mammography less accurate because they can hide cancer that is growing behind or around the implant. 1 According to a research study published in the British Medical Journal, women with cosmetic breast implants who are diagnosed with breast cancer, are more likely to die from the disease compared to women without breast implants who are diagnosed with breast cancer.2 The study found that women with breast implants were more likely to be diagnosed with a later stage breast cancer, compared to women diagnosed with breast cancer without breast implants. This likely occurred because implants interfere with mammography, making it difficult to diagnose breast cancer early.
A mammogram is a type of x-ray. Breast tissue will look grey on the mammogram, and cancer will look white. In a mammogram, implants are also white and will look like a bright white orb. If there is cancer in breast tissue that is below or very near the implant on the mammogram, it probably will not be visible, and therefore won’t be detected.
Here is an example of what implants look like on a mammogram:3
Severe capsular contracture can interfere even more with the accuracy of mammography. It can also cause mammography to be unbearably painful. Capsular contracture is when the scar tissue capsule around the implant tightens and hardens. If you have severe capsular contracture, it may not be possible for you to have a mammogram.
If you have breast implants and need to have a mammogram, you should tell the technician that you have breast implants. You can go to a mammography center that has experience doing mammograms on women with breast implants. The technician will need to take extra x-ray pictures and will have to push your implants to the side, which can be painful.
Mammography also can cause breast implants to break (rupture) or leak. If you have silicone gel-filled implants, this rupture may not be noticeable, but it can cause pain or health problems. To prevent extensive leakage, it is important to have regular breast MRIs to check for silicone gel leakage. If the rupture is not detected, silicone gel can leak through the body and cause serious medical problems.
If you have silicone gel breast implants that are leaking, they can cause lumps (silicone granulomas) that can be mistaken for breast cancer. It can also be difficult to know when a lump really is breast cancer. If you have any lumps, be sure to have them checked for cancer right away. If they are from leaking silicone, it is important to have your implants removed.
All articles have been reviewed and approved by Diana Zuckerman, PhD, and other senior staff.
- Miglioretti DL, Rutter CM, Geller BM, et al. Effects of breast augmentation on the accuracy of mammography and cancer characteristics. JAMA, 2004; 291: 442-50. ▲
- Breast cancer detection and survival among women with cosmetic breast implants: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies
- Shah AT, Jankharia BB. Imaging of common breast implants and implant-related complications: A pictorial essay. The Indian Journal of Radiology & Imaging. 2016;26(2):216-225. doi:10.4103/0971-3026.184409. ▲