Breast cancer is gaining greater prevalence, with more attention being given to screening for the cancer. However, there has been a lot of confusion regarding the appropriate age to get the first mammography done. The new guidelines suggest getting screened post 50 every year or once every two years. The confusion is even greater for women who have breast implants. Apart from “when,” they also have queries about “how” the screening will be done.

Breast implants and screenings

Women with breast implants can also undergo mammography screenings. However, the breast cancer screening can be difficult to perform in women with implants. That is because during breast cancer screening, breasts are flattened between the two mammogram plates to get images. With implants the breasts cannot be flattened. Also, the saline or silicone implants prevent x-rays from going through them. Thus, images of parts of the breast below the implants are difficult to take. This in turn makes it difficult to obtain clear images of the breasts and additional pictures are needed during the mammography to check for cancer. For doctors, to view as many breast tissue images as possible, four extra pictures are taken by women with implants apart from the standard four images taken during a mammogram. These extra images are termed as “implant displacement” or ID views. To get these ID images, the implants are pushed back against the walls of the chest and the breast is pulled over it in the forward direction. This helps obtain better images of the front parts of the breast.

Breast implants and screening risks

There is in most of the mammogram screenings no risk or damage to the breast implants. They do not rupture either. However, women with implants are exposed to radiation of x-rays during screening for a longer duration owing to the extra images needed for a better view of breast tissues. Also, the discomfort while flattening the breasts to obtain images would be more compared to that of women without implants.

Even though there are no significant risks, women with implants must inform the technologists about their implants while booking an appointment for mammography. This helps in finding a facility that is experienced in obtaining breast images with implants. Also, the technologists must know of the manufacturer of the implants, along with information on the style, design, and volume. This helps them identify whether unusual changes are due to the implants or the natural breast tissues.

The detection of breast cancer implies removal of the implants even if a mastectomy is not performed.

In conclusion 

Breasts must be felt for lumps, even for those who have implants. Additionally, women must undergo breast screening before getting implants and after it as well. This helps get images of the breasts in normal conditions, which can then be referred to during subsequent screenings. After all, as the saying goes, safety is better than cure.