The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper has successfully obtained an admission of liability on behalf of one of their clients in a claim for breast implant-related cancer known as Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
BIA-ALCL is a very rare cancer of the lymphatic system, part of the body's immune system. Current research indicates that the risk of developing this condition in the UK is approximately one in 24,000 breast implants sold. For comparison, the general incidence of breast cancer in the UK is one in nine and affects women with and without breast implants equally.
The main symptoms of BIA-ALCL in women with breast implants are persistent swelling or pain in the vicinity of the breast implant. These symptoms usually occur many years after implant placement. Women presenting with such symptoms should be taken seriously, supported and examined because BIA-ALCL is treatable if a diagnosis is made early.
Elise Bevan, the solicitor in the clinical negligence team who is dealing with the claim, said: “My client presented with persistent swelling in one of her breasts on seven occasions to her surgeon over a period of four years. The cause of the swelling was eventually evaluated and she was found to have BIA-ALCL.
“Unfortunately for my client, the surgeon did not appreciate the potential seriousness of the underlying cause of her recurrent symptoms until quite late by which time the cancer had spread outside of the capsule. This meant that she required chemotherapy and removal of her lymph nodes in addition to surgery.
“The surgeon has accepted that he should have investigated my client’s symptoms earlier and that this would have avoided the need for chemotherapy and more extensive surgery. My client is now left with ongoing problems caused by her treatment, including nerve damage, pain and fatigue. The chemotherapy has also left her infertile, which has been devastating for my client as at the time of the diagnosis she was trying to conceive”.
Breast cancer experts from across the UK have been working together to evaluate the risk factors associated with BIA-ALCL. Current evidence suggests there is an association between breast implants and BIA-ALCL but this involves many factors. One of the suggested theories is the role of the surface texture of implants. Research has indicated that BIA-ALCL might be related to particular types of texturing or manufacturing processes.
Following these concerns over the association with BIA-ALCL, one of the main manufacturers of breast implants, Allergan, has withdrawn its textured implants from the market so they are no longer available for patient use. This is currently a precautionary measure while further investigations are carried out.
Breast implants are still regarded as safe for use in augmentation and reconstruction operations. However, patients must now be given adequate information about the potential implications and a discussion of BIA-ALCL must be included as part of the consent process and documented in the patient’s medical record. As things stand, the advice to patients from the experts is that, based on the most up-to-date scientific data, there is no need for people with breast implants in the UK to have them removed. We would, however, encourage anyone who is worried following their breast implant surgery to see their GP or the surgeon who performed the surgery.