Raylene Hollrah, of Hermann, Missouri, was 33 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had both breasts removed, underwent chemotherapy, and got silicone breast implants in 2008.
In 2013, she was diagnosed with cancer again — but not breast cancer. It was Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL), a rare immune system cancer that was caused by her breast implants.
In an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Hollrah said:
My whole world came crumbling down again. … Here was something I had put in my body to try to help me feel more like a woman, and it gave me cancer. I thought, ‘I’m not going to see my kids grow up.'”
ALCL starts in blood cells called T-cells that fight infections in the body. Unlike other types of breast cancer, ALCL does not show up on a mammogram. It is diagnosed with a sample of fluid from the breast.
Almost all reports of breast implant lymphoma are linked to implants with a textured surface. Texturing may hide bacteria and cause chronic low-level inflammation. Over time, the risk increases of a cancerous mutation that causes T-cells to multiply uncontrollably.
The link between breast implants and cancer was first reported by the FDA in 2011. In March 2017, the agency said it had received 359 reports of ALCL in women with breast implants, including 9 deaths.
Breast implants are specifically linked to ALK-negative ALCL, which is the most dangerous type because it grows quickly and often relapses.
Ms. Hollrah was diagnosed with ALCL after her right breast tripled in size in a matter of days. The symptoms were caused by a painful accumulation of fluid around the implant known as a seroma.
When her surgeon removed the implant and ordered tests on the fluid, it was positive for CD30, a substance which indicates lymphoma cells.
The good news is that ALCL is usually curable if it is diagnosed properly. Removing the breast implant and the entire capsule of scar-tissue around the implant can usually eliminate lymphoma. The longer diagnosis is delayed, the higher the risk of complications or death.