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Woman with rare cancer linked to breast implants seeks to spread awareness

Cancer linked to breast implants
Cancer linked to breast implants 05:36

Some women get breast implants as part of reconstruction after breast cancer. Others do it to feel more confident.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says around 550,000 women last year received breast implants, but the FDA published a report this year linking a rare cancer to the implants.

So far, there have been 359 reported cases globally, including nine deaths.

The risk is low, but one in 30,000 women with implants could develop it, including one patient who says she is battling the disease and her insurance company, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.  

Kimra Rogers was shocked to find a tumor under her arm.

"I could feel a mass that was the size of an egg, it was an egg to a lemon, it was very large," Rogers said.

Then she learned it was cancer, possibly connected to the cosmetic breast implants she'd had put in 17 years ago.

"I was never informed that I could possibly get cancer. Basically they said they're 100 percent safe," Rogers said. 

Kimra Rogers CBS News

It's called breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, a rare cancer the FDA says can develop following breast implants, something doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have been studying for five years.
"This is a type of lymphoma. It is not a breast cancer. It's actually a cancer that develops in the scar tissue around a breast implant," said Dr. Mark Clemens.

Breast implants come with either a smooth or a textured outer surface. Surgeons sometimes use these rougher textured implants to limit the movement of a breast implant.

Even though just about 15 percent of implants used in the U.S. are textured, the FDA says most of the women who developed the lymphoma - 203 of 231 cases that identified the type of surface - received the textured implants.  

"We see that it's most commonly occurring around a textured implant," Clemens said. "So we know that something that's triggering the lymphoma is a chronic long-lasting inflammatory state you can almost think of it as akin to an allergic reaction in these patients. But it stimulates part of the immune system and in certain genetically susceptible patients, develops into a lymphoma."
There are three breast implant manufacturers in the U.S.

Dr. Mark Clemens shows the difference between textured and non-textured implants. CBS News

Rosalyn d'Incelli is with manufacturer Sientra.

Asked about how big the problem, PR or otherwise, could be for breast implant manufacturers, d'Incelli said, "We are taking it very seriously and want to make sure that there's education."

In particular, telling doctors and patients that the cancer has a high-cure rate, often simply with taking the implants out.

"In addition to it being rare, it's also very treatable as long as it's caught and the implants are removed," d'Incelli said.
The risk is low, but national cancer treatment guidelines say any woman who does get the lymphoma should have her implants removed as soon as possible.

But insurance companies don't always agree to pay. Rogers says her insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, denied payment for removal of her implants three times, telling her it was a contract exclusion because her implants were cosmetic.

"I was furious because the first line of defense is to remove the source, the source was still in my body," Rogers said.

Rogers says after repeated appeals, the company finally agreed to cover removal, but not reconstruction.
The insurer told CBS News in a statement they "do not generally cover cosmetic procedures" but that for this type of lymphoma, they "do cover medically necessary cancer treatments, including removal of implants, chemotherapy and radiation."  The company would not comment on what happened in Rogers' case

Implant surgery trend 01:24

But Dr. Clemens said, "We can't wait months or years till an insurance company say, 'okay, we're gonna cover it.'"

Asked if women's lives are at risk, Dr. Clemens responded, "That's correct."

Rogers says she's continuing to fight for full insurance coverage for other women.

"I want to be a precedent. I want to be the leader of the pack for all of the women that are behind me. I want them not to do this battle that I'm doing," Rogers said.

Rogers says the cost of removal and reconstruction is estimated at $9,000 to $12,000.

As for the other two manufacturers, Mentor told CBS News, "Long-term data support the safety and efficacy" of its products.

Allergan says it provides "information regarding the risks" of lymphoma in its patient labeling and works to help bring awareness.

Rogers won't know who made hers until they are removed, but Sientra did confirm that Rogers' are not Sientra implants.

The key advice for women who have breast implants here is -- again, this is rare.

But if you notice any changes in the implants or your breasts, such as swelling, head to your doctor's office as soon as possible to have any problems checked out.

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