- Shutterstock/Marko Poplasen
- In July, breast implant manufacturer Allergan voluntarily recalled some of its implants at the request of the FDA after the devices were linked to a rare cancer.
- The recall doesn’t require women with the implants to have them removed or for Allergan to pay for the surgeries women would need to remove or replace them.
- Five women, including breast cancer survivors, spoke with Insider about how knowing their implants are linked to cancer has affected their lives physically, emotionally, and financially.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more.
Following her breast augmentation surgery in 2016, Amy knew something was wrong. The implants her doctor put in, which she’d gotten after a double mastectomy to lower her risk for breast cancer, never felt like they were part of her body.
They “feel like you have two rocks on your chest,” Amy, who asked to be identified by her first name because she was discussing something so personal, told Insider.
A year later, Amy’s implants were causing her so much pain, she couldn’t move her upper body. Many women with various types of breast implants have cited associated pain.
But when Amy learned that the implants she had, Allergan’s textured tear-shaped devices, had been voluntarily recalled because they were linked to a rare cancer, she asked two surgeons what to do. Both suggested she remove and replace them, but in order to do so, Amy will have to pay out-of-pocket since her insurance doesn’t cover the procedure.
Amy is one of many women affected by Allergan’s voluntary July recall of cancer-linked implants at the request of the FDA. The move came years after the FDA found a link between a rare form of cancer called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) and Allergan’s Biocell breast implants.
For some women, this news has led to thousands of dollars spent on removing implants that may or may not cause cancer down the line. For others, deciding whether they should go into debt or keep the devices in their bodies and see what happens has led to sleepless nights and unrelenting stress.
Four other women spoke with Insider about how the Allergan recall has affected their lives, physically, emotionally, and financially.
As of September 2018, the FDA received 457 reports of BIA-ALCL, including nine deaths “which may be attributable” to the cancer.
Allergan’s recall doesn’t call for the immediate removal of the cancer-linked implants. Instead, the company will pay for new implants if a woman wants to replace them.
The company won’t pay for the surgeries needed to remove and replace those implants, which cost around $3,000 for removal and $6,000 to $12,000 for replacement surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. These procedures are rarely covered by insurance.
Stephanie Swartz had her recalled breast implants removed in March. She originally got the devices as part of reconstruction for a double mastectomy.
- Stephanie Swartz
Swartz, a photographer and graphic artist based in California, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 when she was 36 years old.
The breast cancer returned in 2009. She took her doctors’ suggestion that she get a double mastectomy, which involves removing the breasts.
Following the procedure, Swartz decided to get breast implants as a reconstructive procedure. An estimated 35 out of 100,000 women opt to do this after a mastectomy, according to a 2014 report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
“I wanted to feel like I did before the mastectomy,” Swartz told Insider. She said the only other breast reconstruction option was a fat transfer, but she didn’t weigh enough for doctors to take fat from other areas of her body.
Swartz said the Allergan 410 Biocell implants she got in 2010 have always felt uncomfortable, like a tight band was constricting her chest at all times.
- Shutterstock/Marko Poplasen
Other women have had this complaint about implants, including implants not manufactured by Allergan.
Swartz made the switch to smooth implants, which don’t have the raised ridges on their surface of textured implants, in March 2018 after learning about BIA-ALCL through Facebook. Now, she says, the discomfort of the original implants “is 80% gone.”
(Some women and doctors opt for textured implants over smooth ones because they’re less likely to move around inside the body due to the scar tissue that forms around them, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.)
“It felt like there was a ticking time bomb in my chest,” Swartz said, adding that her doctors said the chances she’d develop BIA-ALCL were low. “I didn’t want to sit around and wait. I had cancer enough and didn’t want to worry about it.”
Kim Horner got the Biocell implants as part of breast reconstruction after a double mastectomy.
- Kim Horner
Horner, a Texas-based writer, said she had her breasts removed because she has the BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
When Horner found out that the implants she’d gotten could potentially lead to another kind of cancer, she was overcome with anxiety.
To make the situation worse, Horner found out about the FDA warning about the implants’ cancer link just six months after doctors put them in her body.
“The whole point of a double mastectomy was peace of mind from cancer, so to find the implants used in reconstruction pose their own cancer risk has been very upsetting,” Horner told Insider. “It makes me question whether I should have gotten implants in the first place.”
Horner is still deciding whether she will have her Allergan implants removed. Her options, she said, are to keep the devices in her body, remove them and forgo reconstruction, or remove them and do the fat-based reconstruction procedure that’s highly invasive.
“It’s been frustrating to be told they’re being recalled, but [also,] ‘Don’t worry, you don’t need them removed,'” Horner said.
Rana Faure fears she’ll go bankrupt in order to pay for the surgery needed to remove her Allergan implants.
- Rana Faure
In July 2018, Faure was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast. She opted for a double mastectomy even though she was told she didn’t need to remove her left breast.
“I decided to preempt any possibility and risks” of the breast cancer returning, said Faure, a freelance photographer who lives in the Westchester, New York, area.
In June, Faure got the Allergan 410 Natrelle textured implants, a type of the recalled Biocell implants, as part of a reconstructive procedure.
A month later, a CNN News notification popped up on Faure’s phone, putting her into shock: Allergan was recalling some of its implants, including the ones she just had put in her body.
That news was “equally as hard as the breast cancer diagnosis,” if not worse, she said, since she’s already “gone through everything to minimize the risk” of cancer only to find out doing so put her at risk for another type of cancer.
Faure fears the surgery she needs to remove and replace her implants will force her to bankrupt her freelance photography business.
Faure said surviving as a freelance photographer over the last decade has been difficult enough without added medical complications.
“I had to work almost day in and day out to keep it going,” so taking time off for breast cancer treatment, a double mastectomy, implant surgeries, and potentially implant replacement, severely cuts into her money-making opportunities.
“I have to lift heavy equipment, two cameras on me all day for 12 hours,” she added. The surgery impedes that too.
Faure said because of these obstacles, she’s exhausted all of her savings and needed to ask her mom to help her cover rent.
She’s getting her Allergan implants removed in September, but has yet to decide whether she wants replacement implants or if she’d prefer to opt out of another breast reconstruction because her trust in the medical community has waned.
Robbie Hegwood has had cancer four times. Her third cancer diagnosis was BIA-ALCL linked to her breast implants.
- Delena Dinwiddie/Robbie Hegwood
Hegwood, a 56-year-old wife, mother, and grandmother from Manchester, Tennessee, was diagnosed with uterine cancer when she was 28 years old, and later went into remission. When she was 42, Hegwood was diagnosed with breast cancer, got a mastectomy and reconstruction, and went into remission.
Years later, she had her implants routinely replaced and got Allergan’s textured implants. In 2017, Hegwood started having pain in her breasts and broke out in red rashes all over her body. Soon, she learned she had her third cancer diagnosis. This time it was BIA-ALCL.
Hegwood had the implants removed and chemotherapy successfully treated the BIA-ALCL, but not before her health significantly deteriorated, Hegwood’s daughter Delena Dinwiddie told Insider.
In February, Hegwood was told she had breast cancer again. She’s still dealing with it.
“My mother of 56 years old is in her fight that she won’t win with cancer … She would never have got the implants if she would have known there was a chance she would get cancer from them,” Dinwiddie wrote in an email to Insider.
- Read more:
- Women are saying they’ve been sickened by a mysterious ‘breast implant illness’ that causes pain, rashes, and nausea
- A woman had a celebratory photo shoot with her just-removed implants after years of ‘breast implant illness.’ Now, the company that created those implants has recalled them.
- 5 women talk about regretting their breast implants after experiencing side effects like vomiting and hair loss: ‘I literally thought I was dying’