Tampa, FL -- Whether you want to enhance your image or you've never quite fit into tops, more than 300,000 women will undergo breast enhancement this year. But before you go under the knife, there are a few things to consider, such as whether your implants will impede your doctor's ability to detect breast cancer.
Gill Green is surviving breast cancer. "Being a nurse this is a little embarrassing, but probably a year and a half. Thinking back, it may have been a little longer or a little less, but probably a year and a half I knew I had the lump," Gill said.
Gill had noticed a pea-like lump on her breast. But she thought it was hard scar tissue from her breast implant.
"I was a nurse for, well, almost 30 years now. But I never got sick. So even though I had a lump, I just never thought it could be anything suspicious. I'm never sick. I'm never ill. How could it possibly be cancer? I ignored it."
Time ticked by, the lump grew, and finally Gill decided to take action.
"I thought when I first felt the lump I could feel it at the side of the implant. And that's why I decided it was something to do with the implant. And I thought it was maybe scar tissue. And that's how I found out that it wasn't, because I went back to my plastic surgeon to have the implants revised, it was then that he looked at me and said, 'No, we really need to get this checked out.' And that was my lightbulb moment and I realized it had been silly and I had made a mistake," Gill said.
Her mistake was she hadn't had a mammogram in seven years. Her last one was when she was 38, before she had breast augmentation. After a diagnosing mammogram on March 23, 2011, the single mom had stage three breast cancer.
"It happened very quickly -- mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, MRIs. Then within less than two weeks, I was in the surgery having a bilateral mastectomy," Gill said. "I hear a lot of women say this too, like 'it'll never happen to me.' I have no family history. I really didn't know anybody who had breast cancer. I'd heard of friends of friends. But I just didn't think it would possibly ever happen to me. I'm never ill. Never. Just never anything wrong with me. How could it happen? So I think it was more, looking back it was obviously denial. But I don't think it ever struck me that it was anything abnormal."
Breast Specialist Dr. Charles Cox says any prudent plastic surgeon will recommend you get a mammogram before you get breast implants and evaluate your family's breast cancer history. Detection can be a little more difficult with implants depending on your breast tissue. And if you do decide to enhance your size, Dr. Cox prefers to put the implant under the muscle instead of over it.
"The reasoning for this is basically it allows better ability to see and visualize the lesions on a mammogram first. Second, it makes it a little bit better if a cancer is detected. You're now able to already have part of the reconstruction done, which is to put an implant under if a patient needed a mastectomy," Dr. Cox said.
Gill says she's had a long recovery. "After surgery, I had to go for chemo and did six months of chemo followed by 35 radiation treatments. And then after a few months recovery, after those treatments, I started with reconstructive surgery. I've currently had eight surgeries. And we're taking a little rest in between. Next year, I'll have two or three more. So, it's a long road. It really, really has been a long road. Can't wait to be at the end of it."
She's going back to implants as part of her reconstruction. With treatment taking away so much of her time, she now values moments with her son much more. She also believes women, whether they've undergone surgery or not, need to get tested regularly.
"You know, you hear about the harshness of the treatment, the chemo, the radiation, and everything, and I don't know whether that deters some people from getting tested, whether they don't want to enter that world, but I think the main thing is know your body. Go get your mammograms, and the sooner you find something, the sooner you get it looked at and taken care of, the less likely you'll need to go through the treatments that I went through."
Many plastic surgeons will require a mammogram even if you're under 35 and don't have a family history of breast cancer. The test can cost $100 to $350 if you have to pay out of pocket, and insurance will only cover one a year.
If you're considering breast implants, you can learn more about the FDA's recommendations by clicking here.
It's a myth breast implants raise your risk for breast cancer. There is no evidence to suggest you'll be at an increased risk.