Breast implants may delay breast cancer detection, a small study suggests.

Researchers led by Eric Lavigne, PhD, of Laval University in Quebec, reviewed 12 studies and found that women with breast implants had a 26% increased risk of being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer compared to women without breast implants. An analysis of another five studies revealed that women with breast implants had a 38% increased risk of dying from breast cancer compared to women without implants.

The report was published online April 30 in the  BMJ.

However, the authors caution that these findings should be interpreted with caution as some studies did not adjust for potential confounders.

Still, they write, “The accumulating evidence suggests that women with cosmetic breast implants who develop breast cancer have an increased risk of being diagnosed as having non-localized breast tumors more frequently than do women with breast cancer that do not have implants. Further investigations are warranted into the long term effects of cosmetic breast implants on the detection and prognosis of breast cancer, adjusting for potential confounders.”

New Breast Cancer Screening Strategies Needed for Women with Implants

New York City plastic surgeon Adam Schaffner, MD reviewed the study for Plastic Surgery Practice magazine. “Issues affecting the detection of breast cancer are best addressed by those physicians who regularly screen patients for breast cancer,” he says. “Per my discussion with radiologists and breast cancer surgeons, breast implants may make it slightly more challenging to screen women for breast cancer. However, with modern technology, digital mammograms and ultrasound may be used to obtain the information needed to thoroughly screen all women for breast cancer, including those with breast implants.”

Stephanie Bernik, MD, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, adds that although the new study is not definitive, plastic surgeons do need to have a frank conversation with patients who want breast implants. “A plastic surgeon and breast surgeon should explain that there is going to be some obscuring of tissue,” she says. “Implants aren’t going away, so we have to see if there is a significant difference in the rate of detection, and then maybe we need extra studies including ultrasound imaging to supplement mammogram,” she says.