05/10/2016 5:48 AM AEDT | Updated 05/10/2016 11:48 AM AEDT

The Down Low On Checking Your Breasts When You Have Implants

The benefits of screening certainly outweigh the risks.

Getty Images/PhotoAlto
Breast screening is generally a safe and important procedure for women with breast augmentation implants.

In Australia, 44 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each day.

This national cancer awareness month, we're talking about knowing your breasts -- following new research that shows only 15 percent of Aussie women have good breast health understanding.

A breast screen mammography is the best form of detection for breast cancer -- even for women who have implants."Dr Nicola Dean

This includes a growing number of Aussie women opting for breast augmentation (one form of breast implant) who, too, can and must be checked.

"Women who have had augmentation implants certainly can be screened and they should move through the usual breast screen protocol," Dr Nicola Dean, spokesperson for the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"A breast screen mammography is the best form of detection for breast cancer (or to detect pre-cancerous changes) -- even for women who have implants."

Are they safe?

Breast augmentation involves a foreign material or foreign body being inserted under the tissues of the breast to augment or enlarge the size (we've talked more about this here).

National Cancer Institute
World wide, breast implantation is one of the most commonly performed cosmetic operations.

Services within national body Breast Screen Australia will screen women with breast implants -- provided that they meet usual age and other eligibility criteria.

Whilst the safety of a routine mammography can be of concern for those who have undergone the procedure, the additional risks are minimal, according to Dr Dean.

Will I be exposed to additional radiation?

"When a radiographer is undertaking a mammography, they will usually perform 2 or 3 mammography views -- where they take an X-ray of the breast tissue from a particular direction," she said.

"If a women has implants, they may need to have additional mammography views. This is known as the 'push back view' as they need to push the implant out of the way to get a further view of the breast tissue."

When it comes to quantifying the risk of additional radiation, Dr Dean uses the analogy of equivalent flight times.

"The risk of a normal mammogram, which equals two months of background radiation in Australia, is about equivalent to a seven-hour flight.

"If you have additional mammography views, that will increase your exposure to the equivalent of a 10 to 14- hour flight. So there is increased risk but it is marginal."

Adrianna Williams
Women with augmentation implants can and should undergo mammograms.

But Dr Dean maintains the risks of developing a radiation-induced cancer are far outweighed by the benefits of breast checks.

"If you take all women between the ages of 50 and 80 who have a mammography every time that they should (every two years), the risk of a radiation-induced cancer is about 1 in 100,000.

"If you balance that with the number of lives saved by detecting breast cancer, the number is 350 in those 100,00 women. So the risk of this additional radiation is absolutely tiny."

Are my implants at risk of rupturing?

Dr Dean refers to the risk of rupture or breakage as an "urban myth" that harks back to the days where saline implants were used.

"Saline implants are those which are made up of saline on the inside and silicon rubber on the outside. The modern implants that are used nowadays are made up of a cohesive silicon gel on the inside and the chance of them rupturing is should not be a concern."

Whilst these risks are not paramount, expect discomfort.

"I think it is true that a mammography is uncomfortable for anyone -- perhaps it is slightly more uncomfortable for women who have implants."

"If there are any technically difficulties with the mammography itself, the radiologist present would usually advise to do an ultrasound to clarify any particular areas of concern."

I've noticed a problem with my implant... should I still undergo a breast screen?

Women who notice a problem with their implants should consult their GP as soon as possible, and should not rely on Breast Screen Australia to provide a diagnostic service.

"Breast Screen is there to look for cancer-related changes. If the concern is that the implant may have moved, ruptured or wrinkled, your GP can arrange an ultrasound or MRI to look into it," Dr Dean said.

Implants should not impede on your routine breast checks.


When it comes to all-important self-checks, implants should not hinder.

"The implant shouldn't prevent women from checking their breasts as the implant lies behind the breast tissue."

Dr Dean recommends checking your breasts in the usual fashion, and consulting your GP if you notice any lumps or changes.

"If there are any further checks that are required, these won't cause any harm to the implant."

Looking for some tips to perform a breast self-exam? Read them here.

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