While less than 80 cases of implant related cancer have been reported, Kathleen Howell of Sandy thought she was one of those rare cases.
Kathleen Howell had an elective mastectomy more than 20 years ago and since then has had 11 reconstructive surgeries. The latest came in 2003 when Dr. Scott Haupt fixed what she called a botched breast augmentation.
“He put me back together again,” said Howell. “It took him seven hours."
Everything was fine until one day last April. Howell said, "I woke up and my left breast was very swollen."
By the time she got to her primary care physician a week later her doctor even seemed shocked by her appearance.
"She just looked at me and said lift up your shirt and she said ‘Oh you need to go and have an ultrasound right now,’” said Howell.
The mammogram and ultrasound showed there was a problem, but it still wasn’t clear what it was.
Howell explained, "It looked like someone had stabbed a knife into me."
Their first thought was her implants had ruptured, but plastic surgeon Dr. Haupt had a different fear, he thought it could be cancer.
Dr. Scott Haupt said, "She had no idea what was going on and it was something I hadn't seen before so it was even new to me." >
All the symptoms lined up; the fluid around the implant causing pain and swelling, and the time line, most known cases of anaplastic large cell lymphoma were found about 9 years after the implant surgery.
Dr. Haupt said, "It had been 8 or 9 years since her surgery so immediately this is one of my thoughts."
So in April Dr Haupt went in again to clean out the infection, remove the implants and look for cancer.
"He said he's been in the business for 20 years or more and it's the first time he's ever cut into a person and actually had the infection spray him,” said Howell.
Even though the symptoms mirrored the FDA warnings Kathleen's case remains a mystery the tests turned up nothing, no lymphoma and no cause for the infection.
"It turned out to be nothing we couldn’t find even the infection we did multiple cultures and we couldn't find either,” said Dr. Haupt.
Dr. Haupt said and if it had been lymphoma it could have easily been treated and it would have been extremely rare. "To date there's only been 80 cases reported in the literature and around the world,” said Dr. Haupt. "So it's not a large volume. In fact it's only about one in 500,000 or a million implants."
Those numbers put some of Kathleen’s fears to rest, but she's still a little scared. She doesn't want to suffer through another close call.
"It still worries me because I’m getting implants in two more days and what if it was the implants that caused it."
The FDA isn't warning women to remove their breast implants out of fear of anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Experts advise to have normal check-ups and watch for the warning signs which include swelling, pain, lumps or asymmetry.