Risks Associated with Mammograms for Breast Implants

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Unfortunately having a mammogram does carry some risk if you have breast implants, although these need to be looked at in context, as not having a mammogram also carries the risk of breast cancers advancing due to not being treated in the early phases of development.  Having a mammogram if you have breast implants could:

  • Cause your implant to rupture.  When you have a mammogram performed your breast is placed within the confines of two special paddles that tend to squash your breast.  If you have implants that are over 10 years in age it is possible that this action could lead to your implant being placed under too much pressure and there is potential for them to rupture.  This is unlikely to occur with new implants due to the different materials used, but silicone or saline implants could rupture.  Rupturing of the implant could lead to further problems with the shape of the breast and you may need to replace it if this does occur.
  • Obstruct the picture created by the mammogram, so preventing a cancer from being detected.  The mammogram can be performed in a way to best prevent the implants interference, however there is still a chance that a cancer might be missed or overlooked if you have an implant.  Breast cancers can develop to be life threatening so if this occurs there is a real risk of more serious illness.
  • Breast implants can cause a mammogram to be painful for the patient as they are manipulated into the X-ray machine. 
  • Produce false readings.  Small calcifications can occur around the implant, and can remain if the implant is removed.  On a mammogram these can look very similar to tumours, and may be wrongly interpreted.  These may require further investigation, or might be ignored, sometimes with a tumour being overlooked in the process.
  • Lead to increased radiation.  If you have a breast implant your radiographer will need to take about double the number of x-rays in order to properly assess your breast.  This will put you at more risk of radiation that others, however the risk is very small.

There are instances when a mammogram is not recommended for a patient with breast implants.  If your implant caused you to suffer from Capsular Contracture then it is unlikely that you will be able to have a mammogram.  This condition occurs as the breast material becomes very tight and hard after the implant surgery, and any manipulation of the breast can aggravate and inflame the breast.  A mammogram in this instance would be highly painful. 

Reducing the Risks

If you wish to have a mammogram but are concerned about the risks associated with your breast implants then it is a good idea to discuss your concerns with your GP or with the professional radiographer.  There are certain steps that they can take to ensure you are placed in less risk than otherwise.

  • Placing the implants in a way to reduce the pressure placed on them, hopefully preventing any rupturing
  • Ensuring that performing a mammogram will not put you in any undue danger
  • Taking more X-rays so that they can build up a clearer picture of your breast and to allow for any abnormalities to show up more obviously.
  • Implants placed underneath the breast muscle cover up less of the tissue screened during a mammogram than implants placed over the top of the breast muscle.  Having your implant located under this tissue may help when mammograms are performed.

Your radiographer will try to make your mammogram as comfortable for you as possible, although if you have a breast implant this is likely to make the experience slightly more painful than otherwise.

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