Breast implants linked to rare lymphatic cancer cases in Australia

Published 28 Apr 2017

More than 50 women in Australia have been diagnosed with a rare cancer of the lymphatic system - and breast implants are the likely cause.

Five new anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) diagnoses came to light this month, bringing the total to 51. The problem has caught the attention of the federal government's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which held an expert advisory panel in December 2016 before the additional cases were reported.

The disease may cause a rise in the number of critical illness claims in the country. ALCL is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which should be covered under most insurance policies.

ALCL in Australia

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first identified a possible link between breast implants and ALCL in 2011. According to the TGA, there have now been three deaths due to the disease over the last 10 years, but the organisation believes there are a number of other unconfirmed cases.

Breast-associated ALCL usually begins with swelling in the breast, with cases occurring as little as one year after augmentation and up to 37 years later. The swelling is caused by fluid accumulation, although in less common cases a lump can develop in the breast or armpit.

Most women are cured through the removal of the implants and the capsule surrounding them, but chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be required when there is a lump.

"If you notice enlargement or swelling of one or both breasts, or a lump, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible," the TGA advises.

What causes ALCL?

Experts aren't sure why breast implants are causing ALCL, but Dr Gazi Hussain, vice president of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, said there is a hypothesis among medical practitioners.

"We think what might be happening is there's potentially issues with the technique [of] inserting breast implants, where low amounts of bacteria may be introduced into the patient," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"That causes low-grade inflammation and this low-grade inflammation may lead to the development of this type of lymphoma. It's a theory."

According to Australian government estimates, 134,174 people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2017. While the five-year survival rate for the disease was 68 per cent between 2009 and 2013, 47,753 individuals are still expected to pass away due to cancer this year.

Would you like to learn more about critical illness claims for diseases such as cancer? Please get in touch with Gerard Malouf & Partners Superannuation Lawyers today.

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