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What is Breast Implant Illness?

Breast implant illness is a term used for a wide range of symptoms that can develop after going a breast augmentation or reconstruction. It can occur with any type of implant (e.g., silicone gel-filled and saline-filled). BII affects everyone differently, so not everyone will have the same symptoms. 

Some symptoms include: 

  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Disruption of sleep
  • Rashes and skin problems
  • Dry mouth/eyes
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Hair loss
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Some symptoms may appear right after surgery, and some people develop symptoms years after their procedure. 

Its hard to know for certain what a person’s chances are of developing breast implant illness, but there are certain risk factors that make women more likely to develop BII, but even women without these risk factors have developed symptoms. 

However, your risk is greater if you have any of the following: 

  • Personal or family history of autoimmune disease
  • You suffer from a chronic condition such as Fibromyalgia
  • Allergies 
  • You have been diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Before deciding to get a breast augmentation with implants, you should consider the risks associated with BII. Many of the symptoms of BII are the same as those of autoimmune and connective tissue disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. However, only some people who have BII get diagnosed with a specific autoimmune or connective tissue disorder. 

BII isn’t well understood and isn’t officially recognized as a medical condition, but some experts say it’s likely to be related to an autoimmune reaction to the implants. Among the various BII hypotheses that have been explored to date, a leading theory is that some women may be genetically predisposed to developing an immune reaction to the materials used in breast implants. 

This top theory is called: autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA). The pattern of widespread symptoms seen in ASIA, which is a recognized condition, are caused by a systemic reaction to adjuvants, such as silicone. 

Some experts believe that ASIA is actually a better term — or explanation — for BII. 

Breast implant illness isn’t well understood, and individual plastic surgeons take different approaches to treating it. Most surgeons have found that removing the implant and the surround scar tissue, and not replacing the implants is the long-term treatment for symptoms of BII or ASIA. 

Some women choose to not have their breast implants removed completely but switching their implants from a textured implant to a smooth saline-filled implant. This procedure may improve some of the BII symptoms they are experiencing, but still carries a risk of returning over time, so it isn’t a long-term solution.

If you are considering getting breast implants or replacing older ones, make sure to talk to your plastic surgeon about if you have the potential risk factors for BII, as mentioned above. If you do have any of the risk factors, it might make sense to consider an alternative to getting implants, such as a fat transfer breast augmentation. Which sounds exactly like its name. The surgeon uses liposuction to take fat from other parts of your body and inject it into your breast for a more natural, fuller bust. 

What is BIA-ALCL?

BIA-ALCL is a breast implant-associated type of T-cell lymphoma that develops in the scar tissue surrounding a breast implant which, in some cases, can spread around the body. BIA-ALCL is curable in most patients if it is diagnosed early and treated, but a small number of patients have died from the illness. 

Some common symptoms you may experience include: 

  • Breast enlargement
  • Lumps in the breast
  • Uneven breasts or change in appearance 
  • Redness
  • Hardening of the breasts
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Skin rash

In Canada, medical professionals, physicians, and patients met to discuss the health risks surrounding breast implants, and a petition was made calling on the government to form a committee to investigate the correlation between breast implants, autoimmune diseases, and BIA-ALCL which is a rare form of cancer that affects a person’s immune system.

In a report by CTV News, the petition E-1962 was organized by an Ontario woman who had her breast implants removed after she started to develop painful side-affects, and is now urging the government to require more transparency from breast implant manufacturers about the chemical that they are using in order to make them. 

Additionally, “The petition also calls for mandatory testing for BIA-ALCL of all recipients of textured breast implants, the type of implant linked to the cancer, along with mandatory reporting of all confirmed cases of BIA-ALCL.”

However, BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer. It only occurs around saline or silicone filled implants after they have been places in a breast reconstruction or breast augmentation. It seems to only develop in women who have had or do currently have implants with a textured surface. 

The textured surfaces of the implant adhere to the body better than implants with a smooth surface, which is why surgeons used them. France announced a ban on textured implants, and Canada and the Netherlands have followed suit. 

“To protect Canadian patients from the rare but serious risk of BIA-ALCL, Health Canada is advising Allergan that the Department intends to suspend its licenses for Biocell breast implants as a precautionary measure,” Health Canada stated in their official press release. “This means that no one can sell Allergan’s Biocell breast implants in Canada or import them into the country. At Health Canada’s request, Allergan has agreed to voluntarily recall unused Biocell devices from the Canadian market.”

However, in the Heath Canada report, it states that no cases of BIA-ALCL have been reported in Canada with any smooth surface implants.

If you are considering breast implants, you should get all information, including risks and benefits, and discuss them with your surgeon and primary doctor. The risks of Breast Implant Illness and BIA-ALCL should be discussed as part of your consultation.