The Truth about Breast Implants and Cancer Screening

By Chuma Chike-Obi, MD February 17, 2014 One Comment

breast implant main

Sadly, about 1 in 8 women (12%) in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime (source Cancer.org). One question my colleagues and I routinely get from patients relates to screening for breast cancer: “Do breast implants make it harder to detect breast cancer?” I wanted to write a quick post to cover the topic of breast implants and cancer detection.

Breast Implants and Standard Mammograms

Implants can potentially hinder the optimal view of breast tissue during a standard mammogram. Both saline and silicone implants are radiopaque (not see-through) and thus appear as white splotches on the images. This prevents visualization of the tissue of the whole breast. Implants can also make it more difficult for the technician to flatten the breast between the mammogram plates to take a high quality image.

Studies have shown that although implants can potentially obscure some of the breast tissue during mammography, cancer detection and prognosis does not appear to be affected by the presence of breast implants.

Implant positioning plays a role in the quality of screening images as well. Most of the distortion of the tissue occurs below the implant. For this reason, an implant placed below the pectoralis major muscle is further away from the breast gland and is less likely to obscure a mammographic study than an implant placed in the subglandular (under the breast gland and above of the pectoralis major muscle).

Special Mammograms for Women with Implants

Women with implants can be effectively screened for cancer; they simply require a few additional images (or views) during their mammogram.

Instead of just the traditional views captured during a standard mammogram, the radiologist or technician will likely capture additional views for women with implants. To increase visibility on the images, the radiologist may take “implant displacement views”. In these images, the implant is pushed back against the chest wall bringing the natural breast tissue forward. Implant displacement views have been shown to improve the evaluation for as many as 92% of patients.

Can My Implants Rupture During a Mammogram?

Implant rupture from flattening during a mammogram is highly unlikely. During the ten years between 1992 and 2002, there were only 41 cases of rupture reported to the FDA. Concerns about implant rupture during imaging should not prevent you from getting screened for breast cancer. The benefits of screening far outweigh the minimal risk of rupture.

Other Breast Cancer Screening Tips

1) If you are concerned about breast cancer, be sure to mention your concerns in the consultation with your plastic surgeon. He or she may select a position for the implant that will allow for optimal imaging of the breast while still providing the desired aesthetic result.

2) Remind your radiologist, technician or other doctors of your breast implants at every visit that includes a breast examination or imaging.

While breast implants can potentially obscure some breast tissue during standard mammography, alternative screening methods are available to allow for good quality imaging. Several studies have shown that women with implants whom develop cancer are not diagnosed any later than non-augmented women. Be sure to discuss any concerns about breast implants and breast cancer with your plastic surgeon and your radiologist.


Chuma Chike-Obi, MD

Chuma Chike-Obi, MD completed a 6 year residency with the Division of Plastic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and Affiliate hospitals in Houston, Texas. Dr. Chike-Obi specializes in cosmetic surgery, including facelift, blepharoplasty, breast augmentation, liposuction, rhinoplasty, and reconstructive breast surgery.


One Response to “The Truth about Breast Implants and Cancer Screening”

  1. Vanduyn says:

    Great information in this post, really helped me. Thanks for taking the time to write, I’m sure you’re very busy. But it did help 🙂

Leave a Reply