Cosmetic breast implants may hinder survival in women who later develop breast cancer, according to a new small study published in BMJ.

The authors suggest that these results be interpreted with caution because some of the twelve studies that were looked into did not adjust for a number of confounding elements. They emphasize the need for further studies into the long term health effects of breast implants.

Breast implants have grown in popularity, however, some research has suggested that the implants can make it harder to find breast cancer at an early stage, because they produce shadows on mammograms, hiding some breast tissue.

A team of investigators in Canada set out to determine whether the stage when breast cancer is diagnosed – and post-diagnosis survival were different between women with and without cosmetic breast implants.

The researchers examined the findings of 12 observational studies, all published after 1993 and done in the U.S., Europe, or Canada.

They discovered that women with cosmetic breast implants had a 25% higher risk of being diagnosed later in life with breast cancer than those who did not have implants.

Secondly, the authors analyzed the findings of five more studies and found that women with cosmetic breast implants had a 38% increased risk of death from breast cancer than women who did not have implants.

The authors point out some study limitations and comment:

“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 who do not have implants.”

They also found that cosmetic breast implants negatively affect breast cancer survival rates after being diagnosed with this disease.

The authors concluded:

“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.”

In 2011, the FDA reported that females who have saline and silicone gas-filled breast implants have a greater risk of developing ALCL (anaplastic large cell lymphoma). The cancer risk is the scar capsule next to the implant.

In 2009 experts from the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center reported that cosmetic breast implants do not interfere with detecting breast cancer, contrary to the current study. In fact they suggested it may be easier to spot abnormalities with implants.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald