Information for patients, public and health care professionals.
What is BIA-ALCL?
In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined a new type of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), which is, itself, an uncommon type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma with several subtypes. The WHO labelled this new variant as breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma or BIA-ALCL*. It has specific diagnostic criteria, which include positive expression of the marker CD30, negative for ALK, and a distinct cell morphology.
The MHRA’s investigation into BIA-ALCL continues and, as with all issues examined by us, we take an evidence-based approach across a range of data sources. Research into this area is yet to provide the answer as to how BIA-ALCL develops. There are several theories. One is that surface texturing on implants may play a role. Research is continuing in the UK and in other countries around the world to better understand how BIA-ALCL develops.
Current UK advice
Information for patients
The most common symptom for people with BIA-ALCL around breast implants, is fluid collecting around the implant (‘late’ seroma). You might notice a fairly quick, but painless, increase in size of the affected breast, usually over a few weeks. In some cases, it can affect both sides at the same time.
Most cases have happened years after surgery. Very rarely BIA-ALCL has been found when a lump develops next to an implant, or within the tough fibrous tissue that can build up around an implant (called a capsule).
The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) final opinion on BIA-ALCL reports the occurrence of BIA-ALCL is uncommon. However, it is important that you know about the risks if you already have, or are considering having, breast implants. If you develop a seroma, a breast lump or swelling around your implant more than a year after having the breast implant, you should ask your implanting surgeon for advice. Also tell your GP who may need to refer you to your local NHS Breast Care service.
Before you have breast implant surgery, it is important that you talk with your surgeon to discuss the benefits and risks as part of a shared decision-making process. You should make sure that you understand the risks involved before giving your informed consent** to the treatment option that is right for you.
If you have developed a problem with a breast implant you should tell your surgeon and GP and also report it through the MHRA Yellow Card Scheme.
Information for healthcare professionals
Clinicians have a legal obligation to discuss the potential risk of BIA-ALCL when seeking informed consent of new patients, and with any patient returning for review of their breast implants.
When reporting a case of BIA-ALCL in patients with breast implants, surgeons are reminded to include (where it is known):
- the patient’s CD30+/-, ALK +/- status
- full details of the device, including manufacturer, model, surface texture (as identified by the manufacturer)
- the presenting clinical features and the subsequent management
- other information including the dates of initial implantation, revision, and explantation
- information on previous implants, particularly whether tissue expanders have been used and for how long
This information is vital to enable the MHRA to build a better picture of the prevalence of this issue, which contributes to the global effort to better understand this disease.
Report any suspected or actual adverse incidents involving these devices through your healthcare institution’s local incident reporting system and/or your national incident reporting authority as appropriate: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales.
Please also ensure patient’s details are included in the Breast and Cosmetic Implant Registry (BCIR). Patient consent is no longer required for this information to be recorded and doing so will not breach General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules.
Providing this information to the registry is a legal obligation under section 259(1)(a) of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
Reports to the MHRA
The MHRA continues to collect and analyse all reports of ALCL in patients with breast implants. We welcome reports from patients, members of the public, manufacturers, other regulators, and UK healthcare professionals.
A case of ALCL can occur in the breast without a history of an implant, perhaps due to an unrelated medical condition. Therefore, the number of reports we receive cannot be interpreted as an accurate reflection of issues directly attributable to implants. However, we still need to collect reports of ALCL in people with breast implants to build up a better picture of what is happening.
Note: our data quoted below is for reports of cases that meet the WHO diagnostic criteria for BIA-ALCL.
As of December 2020, the MHRA had received 83 reports of BIA-ALCL in patients with breast implants. This figure includes cases reported where the original implantation did not occur in the UK. The number of confirmed cases has increased by five since the last update in August 2020.
In the UK, the current estimated incidence of BIA-ALCL, based on confirmed cases, is 1 per 15,000 implants sold. The estimate is calculated by dividing the number of confirmed cases by the number of breast implants sold. This estimate is based on data for all types of breast implants, including breast tissue expanders, that we know were sold in the UK. This is only an estimate because some cases may not have been reported to the manufacturer or to the MHRA during this time, and not all implants sold in the UK have been implanted.
The increase in the estimated incidence since August 2020 is due to a decrease in sales and surgical operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the confirmed cases of BIA-ALCL in people with breast implants reported to the MHRA, there has been one death. There have also been two deaths from ALCL which did not meet the WHO diagnostic criteria for BIA-ALCL.
Analysis of data from the BCIR as it matures will help us to get a better picture of the prevalence of this issue. This will further aid the MHRA in its role of monitoring the safety of breast implants for patients.
The MHRA is adopting a more systematic approach to listening to and meaningfully involving patients and the public. We recognise the value that patients and the public can add to our decision making and want to make sure that we listen to their concerns and views at every opportunity. As outlined in our proposed patient and public involvement strategy 2020-2025, for future updates of this page, we will ensure that patients and the public are better informed about the specific products used in their healthcare to enable them to make more informed decisions. In addition, when producing guidance for patients, public or healthcare professionals that will be published on GOV.UK, wherever possible we will share the draft guidance with the target audience for comment before publication and seek to incorporate that feedback in the final version where possible/practicable/appropriate.
Patient safety remains our highest priority. The MHRA continues to collect and analyse a range of information from patients, members of the public, UK healthcare professionals and other sources about this issue so we can build a fuller picture of the occurrence of this uncommon disease in association with breast implants. Where necessary, we will take further action as quickly as possible.
Medical Device Alerts (MDA)
The MHRA has informed surgeons about the potential risks of BIA-ALCL in patients with implants in Medical Device Alerts issued in February 2011 (MDA/2011/017) and updated in July 2014 (MDA/2014/027), and most recently in July 2018 (MDA/2018/027).
These alerts advise surgeons to strongly encourage patients to check for symptoms such as lumps, swelling or distortions through continued regular self-examination and to consult their GP or implanting surgeon if they have concerns. The alerts in 2011 and 2014 advised surgeons to report cases of BIA-ALCL to the MHRA and the alert in 2018 also advised surgeons to include the risks of BIA-ALCL in consenting patients for breast implant surgery as part of shared decision making.
The MHRA regularly reviews the information it provides to hospitals, clinics and surgeons to determine if any updates are required. Further or updated advice is issued as appropriate.
The MHRA has changed the way it issues safety information to healthcare providers. We stopped issuing Medical Device Alerts (MDAs) in September 2020. This page describes the different communications that the MHRA publishes. Note that the advice in many MDAs remain valid until and unless they are archived. If you were signed up to receive Medical Device Alerts, you need to now subscribe to receive National Patient Safety Alerts and Device safety information.
MHRA Expert Advisory Group
To assist us in our work, and to advise us on how we communicate and engage with patients and healthcare professionals on implants we have formed an independent expert advisory group; the Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Expert Advisory Group (PRASEAG) who are working with us to review the risks associated with breast implants.
Members of the group have world-recognised expertise and are helping us to provide a greater understanding of the disease and potential risk to patients to help guide any further necessary MHRA action.
PRASEAG have published an information document (information about BIA-ALCL for people with breast implants) based on important questions the surgeons on the group have received during consultations with patients.
PRASEAG have also been pivotal in creating UK clinical guidelines for healthcare professionals involved in the diagnosis and treatment of people with BIA-ALCL. The clinical guidelines have been published in the following journals:
- British Journal of Haematology
- European Journal of Surgical Oncology
- Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery
PRASEAG is chaired by Mr Nigel Mercer, Consultant Plastic Surgeon and immediate past President of the Federation of Surgical Specialty Associations. He is also a past President of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) and the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) and twice past President of the European Association of Societies of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (EASAPS).
The Vice-chair of PRASEAG is Miss Fiona MacNeill (Consultant breast surgeon, past President of Association of Breast Surgery).
PRASEAG membership currently consists of Presidents and/or representatives of the Association of Breast Surgery (ABS), the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) and the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) along with representatives from the following organisations:
- Breast and Cosmetic Implant Registry (BCIR)
- British Society of Haematology
- Global BIA-ALCL Network Forum
- Royal College of Pathologists
- Royal College of Radiologists
Areas of expertise covered by PRASEAG include:
- Genetic epidemiology
- Haemato-oncology with a special interest in lymphoma
- Oncoplastic and reconstructive breast surgery
- Pathology- surgical infection and microbiology
- Pathology - cellular and molecular tumour biology
- Patient advocacy (vacancy)
- Plastic and reconstructive surgery
- Radiology (medical imaging)
- Toxicology and immunology
We work closely with clinical stakeholders including the Association of Breast Surgery (ABS), British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) and the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS).
The Breast and Cosmetic Implant Registry (BCIR)
The Breast and Cosmetic Implant Registry (BCIR) was launched by NHS Digital in October 2016 to capture the details of all breast implant procedures undertaken in England by both the NHS and independent healthcare providers.
The registry aims to provide the data needed to detect any early safety signals in relation to an implant and provide a mechanism for managing patients in the event of an implant recall. This will further aid the MHRA in its role of monitoring the safety of breast implants for patients.
Patients can request through their surgeon, hospital, or clinic where they were treated, that their details are added retrospectively to the BCIR.
The MHRA was part of an EU taskforce monitoring BIA-ALCL with the aim of getting a picture of the issue across Europe and to understand the scientific issues surrounding the disease. Further work was undertaken relating to this (see below).
The MHRA’s response to recent international activity (November 2020)
We continue to regularly monitor and review all available evidence and emerging information about the safety of breast implants. We will update our advice where necessary. People with breast implants do not need to have them removed in the absence of any symptoms that have been associated with this uncommon form of cancer. This advice is consistent with all international regulators.
If people have any questions about their implants, they should speak to their implanting surgeon or GP.
The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks
The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) has a mandate to provide advice on the state of scientific knowledge regarding a possible connection between breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma. SCHEER have published their final opinion on BIA-ALCL, which was open for public consultation until December 2020. One of the recommendations is for more research to be undertaken and this is in line with advice issued by the MHRA in relation to the management of asymptomatic patients who have breast implants.
ANSM (the French regulator)
On 6-7 February 2019 the French regulator ANSM held a public meeting on BIA-ALCL. Their expert advisory group published their recommendations.
On 4 April 2019 ANSM published a precautionary decision to restrict the use of certain types of textured breast implants and polyurethane coated breast implants in France.
PRASEAG produced a joint statement.
Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)
On 19 November 2018 we participated in the workshop of an international expert group consisting of EU taskforce members, regulatory authorities, manufacturers and representatives of the scientific and medical professional bodies on BIA-ALCL.
While most cases of BIA-ALCL have been reported in patients with textured implants, at that time they concluded there is not enough scientific evidence of a causal relationship specifically between textured implants and BIA-ALCL. A summary of the meeting can be viewed here.
Following the French announcement in April 2019, the Dutch Regulator asked RIVM to interpret the French action relating to certain macro-textured and polyurethane coated breast implants. The RIVM report was published on 17 May 2019.
The Dutch regulator also published a response to the RIVM report on the ANSM action.
The advice provided by the Chair of PRASEAG in the 4 April 2019 statement above remains unchanged.
FDA (USA regulator)
On 25-26 March 2019 the FDA held a public meeting to discuss breast implants. At this meeting, an advisory panel considered the continued availability of breast implants, but no recommendation to restrict any type of breast implant was made to the FDA. The majority of patients who presented at the meeting highlighted the importance of the informed consent process.
The EU taskforce presented a joint oral statement at the FDA meeting.
FDA released a press statement on the outcome of this meeting.
TGA (Australian regulator)
On 26 September 2019 the TGA (Australia) announced a plan to take regulatory action to limit the use of some textured breast implants and tissue expanders sold in Australia. Australia operates under a different regulatory framework to the UK. Implants available in Australia are listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) which can be found on their website.
Engagement with other regulators
MHRA has also been in contact with regulators around the world, including Canada and Australia sharing information about this disease to gain a global view of how it has been affecting their populations. Differences in the occurrence of the disease in different populations is important in understanding the mechanisms which may be involved in its cause.
Additional information on ALCL
UK professional associations
- British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS)
- British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS)
- Association of Breast Surgery (ABS)
Regulatory agencies from outside the United Kingdom
- The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
- The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Health Canada
- German regulator (BfArM)