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Breast surgeon discusses the cancer case that "astonished" her as FDA weighs risks of implants

FDA weighs possible cancer risks of implants
FDA weighs possible cancer risks of textured breast implants 05:59

The FDA is meeting for a second day on Tuesday to address the possible risks of breast implants after the agency reported last fall that 457 cases of cancer have been detected in women with breast implants. Some women with textured implants are developing a type of cancer called lymphoma. It was thought to be easily curable but one Texas woman's case raises new questions about just how deadly that cancer might be.

Sandra Rush is a grandmother who'd had breast implants for more than two decades with no issues until April of 2017. What her doctor at first thought was a common infection, turned out to be cancer.

"My left breast began to swell. And there was a hardness in it,'" Rush told CBS News' Anna Werner, who has been reporting on this issue since 2017. "I was in shock really. I could not – I couldn't believe it."

It's called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare cancer the FDA says can  develop following breast implants. Most women who get that cancer, like Rush, have what are called textured breast implants, which feature a rougher surface that's designed to limit the movement of an implant but also may initiate the cancer. One of the theories is that the rough surface of the implant irritates and inflames the tissue.

Reports to the FDA show that of 457 cancer cases at least 310 occurred with textured implants. Most women are cured after doctors take the implants out but in Rush's case, after her implants were removed and she'd had breast reconstruction, she developed an odd pain in her jaw. Doctors did another test.

"It showed that it had metastasized all through my body," Rush said. "I was in just complete utter shock. I was in complete, utter shock."

She wasn't the only one. Breast surgeon Elisabeth Potter is Rush's doctor.

"When I got the pathology report, I was astonished. I actually thought it was incorrect," Potter said. "I read it and reread it."

The cancer had moved beyond the area of the implant into her tissues and bones. It was something Potter had "never heard of."

"Did not expect it. Was not taught that that could happen," she said.

Not only was Rush's cancer not easily curable – it could kill her. Potter says it took five rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant to put Rush into remission.

"We have seen something new in breast implant-associated cancer. And I just want us to pay attention to that," Dr. Potter said.

The country's three largest breast implant manufacturers -- Allergan, Sientra and Mentor -- told CBS News textured implants have been extensively tested for safety and comply with FDA monitoring and that patient safety is their top priority. Mentor says the cancer risk is rare with its implants. 

But that's not good enough for Dr. Potter. She said she won't use them anymore because they don't pass what she calls at her practice "the sister test." If you wouldn't give it to your sister, you shouldn't give it to your patients.  

Dr. Potter now specializes in using a woman's own belly fat to reconstruct a new breast, instead of using implants. If a patient wants a non-textured implant, she'll provide it, but said, "The power should be in the woman's hands. Let's give her the information and let her choose … This implant carries greater risk. Would you like it in your body? It's that simple."

Last month, Rush got a clean bill of health from her oncologist but regrets the day nearly a quarter century ago when she decided she needed breast implants.  

"I think women kind of get conditioned in their mind that, you know, they wanna look a certain way because that's the way you should look … Like me, I mean, I paid for it, more ways than one."

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