If you have breast implants, it’s a good idea to check your breasts regularly for any changes or abnormalities, like lumps, textural anomalies, or size differences. You should also monitor your breasts for swelling, one of the main symptoms of a rare cancer possibly linked to certain breast implants.
Breast-implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) is not breast cancer; it’s cancer of your immune system and can become aggressive and difficult to treat if you don’t seek help early.
Matthew J. Lynch, MD, board-certified in cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery, has conducted extensive research on BIA-ALCL and is one of New Jersey’s leading experts on the risks and benefits of breast implants. He’s committed to providing the safest, most reliable implants and monitoring our patients to ensure long-term success and health.
If you’ve noticed breast swelling and are concerned it might indicate BIA-ALCL, Dr. Lynch wants to reassure you — BIA-ALCL is rare, and swelling can signify several issues unrelated to cancer. Here’s what you need to know about swollen breasts.
Potential causes of swollen breasts
If your breasts feel heavier than usual or appear larger for unknown reasons, you’re right to start looking for answers, because swollen breasts could be a benign issue or a serious medical condition. Here are some of the most common culprits behind breast swelling.
1. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
In the days leading up to your menstrual cycle, your body produces a surge of estrogen that comes in handy if you get pregnant. It’s your body’s way of preparing itself for fertilization, implantation, and pregnancy. If you don’t become pregnant, the hormone subsides until next month.
During that premenstrual period, breast enlargement is one of the changes estrogen triggers. Some of the swelling may be due to water retention, and the rest results from expanding milk glands and ducts — again, your body is prepping for pregnancy. Your swollen breasts should return to their original size when your period starts.
2. Birth control
Birth control methods that rely on hormone manipulation to prevent pregnancy can also lead to swollen breasts. The hormones in these therapies and some medications can cause your body to retain fluids that get trapped in your breast tissue. These and other related symptoms, such as breast tenderness, usually dissipate when your body adjusts to the treatment.
Some women suspect they’re pregnant long before they take a pregnancy test because they have swollen breasts — one of the first signs of early pregnancy. Expect your breasts to keep growing through your pregnancy, especially during the third trimester.
4. Postpartum engorgement
Within the first week after you deliver your baby, your already-swollen breasts will fill with milk and become unrecognizable. Your milk causes engorgement, an uncomfortable stage of milk production that fills your breast to maximum capacity. Engorgement goes away as your baby breastfeeds, but if you skip feedings, it can return.
Mastitis is an infection usually triggered by clogged milk ducts. Most cases of mastitis occur when a woman is breastfeeding, but even women who aren’t breastfeeding can develop it. If your milk duct clogs, the milk builds up and fosters an infection, leading to swollen breasts, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. Treatment with an antibiotic usually resolves mastitis.
6. Fibrocystic breast disease
Discovering a lump in your breast can be frightening, but many turn out to be benign (noncancerous), as in the case of fibrocystic breast disease. In addition to swollen breasts, you may notice pain, tenderness, thickened tissue, and lumps. Fibrocystic breast disease isn’t a serious medical condition and doesn’t increase your cancer risk. Warm or cold compresses and OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen can ease your symptoms.
Sometimes, breast swelling signifies cancer, including inflammatory breast cancer and BIA-ALCL.
If you just got your breast implants and have some swelling — don’t panic. Inflammation is normal after the surgical procedure. However, if you’ve had your implants for a while — particularly if they’re textured implants — and you notice significant swelling or a lump around the implant or near your armpit, it’s time to seek medical attention.
Dr. Lynch can assess the situation and determine whether you should undergo breast implant removal to resolve the problem.
If you suspect BIA-ALCL, call Matthew J. Lynch, MD, in East Windsor, New Jersey, or request an appointment online.