Breast implants, mammograms and thermograms

Breast augmentation surgery is the most common cosmetic surgery in America. It is estimated that 4 million women have undergone breast implant surgery in the U.S., approximately 500,000 more will do so in 2007. According to the, breast implants may decrease the ability of mammograms to identify cancer because they can obscure a tumor. Depending on which studies are cited, it’s estimated that implants can obscure more than 50 percent of breast tissue.

The difference comes down to where they are placed. Those inserted below the chest muscle (about 50%) are less likely to obscure tissue than those placed above.  Both silicone and gel implants look like white “blobs” on the xray and may prevent a view of the tissue below.  In all cases, instead of the two standard views taken for each breast, four views are taken…adding up to more radiation.  The risk of rupture, although small, is real. Between June, 1992 and October of 2002, there were 41 cases of implant ruptures during mammography were reported to the FDA. 

COMMENT: The use of thermography in women who have breast implants is an area that deserves intense investigation. I have seen several women in my office who refused mammograms because they had implants. One woman’s thermogram was very abnormal and with much coaxing, she was convinced to obtain a mammogram. Unfortunately, she was found to have cancer in both breasts. 

Could this have been detected earlier if she had obtained regular mammograms? Quite possibly. But if women are going to refuse mammograms (for whatever reason, not just because they have implants), at the very least, they should get a thermogram. We need to redefine the meaning of Early Detection.

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