AUSTRALIAN WOMAN DIES OF BREAST IMPLANT CANCER
Julie Luezzi was only 49 years old when she was diagnosed with breast-implant associated large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in April 2013.
Julie is one of five women in Australia and New Zealand who have died of breast implant-associated (BIA) ALCL. A total of 107 Australian women have been diagnosed with the rare cancer of the immune system that develops in the fluid and scar tissue surrounding the implants.
Her implants – Allergen ‘Biocell’ – are one of the highly textured implants the TGA has proposed banning.
Julie wrote: “I know if we had all the information that is available now [my doctor] and I would not have chosen this implant”. She was living in New Zealand when she told her GP about the small lump in her left breast in September 2012. It grew bigger and painfully inflamed in the six weeks it would take to discover it was cancer.
There were more delays and painful tests before her treating team told Julie the tumour was likely linked to her breast implants.
Over five months, the tumour kept growing in defiance of four rounds of chemotherapy.
She endured the painful staging tests, lumbar punctures, bone marrow biopsies, endless blood tests, weekly injections, the side effects of chemo and immeasurable emotional and financial hardships.
She documented it all in harrowing detail to inform international regulators and warn women of the risk of ALCL “no matter how small” so that they can make an informed decision before undergoing breast implant surgery.
The TGA and an expert working group have assured women with textured breast implants that there is no cause for alarm and they do not recommend having their implants removed unless they are having problems.
The cancer is still rare and the vast majority of cases are successfully treated by removing the implants and capsule surrounding them.
But cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Julie had hoped to celebrate her birthday with her family in Australia. Instead, she went home to die. She passed away in Mareeba Hospital, Queensland in April 2013.
“If we knew 10 years ago what we know now, she would have had her implants checked regularly. It could have been caught quickly and treated successfully,” her son Ross said.
Where too from here?
On Thursday, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the medical device watchdog, proposed banning, suspending and restricting textured implants after an exhaustive review confirmed their link to ALCL.
It recommended banning nine Allergan ‘Natrelle’ implants and suspending a number of textured implants manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, Adirel, Emagin, Emergo, Euro Implants, and JT Medical.
What is the risk of ALCL?
The estimated risk of BIA ALCL is one in 1000 for the most highly textured (grade 4) implants, and 1 in 10,000 for grade 3.
A MESSAGE FROM DR FARHADIEH:
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
1) Find out what implant type you have.
2) Contact your surgeon; we routinely follow up our patients and contact them in any cases of notification. We do not use Allergan implants.
3) If you are considering implant surgery, do your research and make sure that you find a qualified specialist plastic surgeon and ask questions.
Please contact us today if you would like more information.
Dr Rostam D Farhadieh
BSc(Med)Hons, MBBS, MD, EBOPRASF, FRACS(Plast), FRCS(Plast)
Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon
Clinical Senior Lecturer
University of Sydney Medical School
Australian National University Medical School