Cassandra's breast implants gave her cancer. She's not the only one.

Growing up, Cassandra* had always felt uncomfortable about her breasts.

She was born with Poland syndrome, where a child is born with missing or underdeveloped chest muscles, meaning Cassandra had no breast tissue on her right side.

"I would never wear tight-fitting clothes or go to the beach, I really wished to feel more womanly. At 38, I got breast implants, and that set me back $17,500. It was classed as corrective surgery not cosmetic surgery given my Poland syndrome. I was happy with the results and thought nothing of it for a long time," she tells Mamamia.

More than 10 years later, the swelling began.

"I noticed swelling in my right breast, and knew that wasn't normal. I went to my doctor, got a second opinion, and was told there was a seroma [a pocket of fluid] around the implant. They aspirated the fluid from it, took it for testing and it came back as BIA-ALCL."

BIA-ALCL stands for Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, which is a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma — a cancer of the immune system. It's a cancer that occurs most frequently in patients who have breast implants with textured surfaces.

But there is far more to this story.

Cassandra and many other women in Australia are now part of a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer of their breast implants.

Watch: How to do a self breast check. Post continues below.

Video via Pink Hope.

Annabelle Baugh, who lives in the UK, also fears her breast implants could kill her.

Annabelle was 20 when she decided to get her first breast augmentation, telling Mamamia: "My inspiration to have implants came from watching Pamela Anderson on Baywatch, where her figure and confidence resonated deeply with me."

She still vividly remembers the moment in November 2019 when she found out the breast implants she had in her chest posed a risk to her life. 

"I had stumbled upon an article in The New York Times, revealing that nine women had tragically lost their lives due to cancer associated with these implants. The gravity of the situation was both frightening and disconcerting, especially considering I had been unaware of the recall in July."

In 2019, Allergan was requested to voluntarily recall worldwide their BIOCELL® textured breast implants — which they did. Natrelle® smooth breast implants were not subject to this withdrawal. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found a higher occurrence of BIA-ALCL in patients who have, or have had, Allergan BIOCELL® textured breast implants.

At the time, the data from the FDA showed that 573 women worldwide had been diagnosed with BIA-ALCL. Thirty-three women had died from the disease.

Of the 573 cases, 481 are attributed to Allergan implants. Of the 33 deaths, 12 of the women are confirmed to have had an Allergan breast implant at the time of their diagnosis.


Following the discovery, Annabelle, now 45, has consistent checks and consultations with her cosmetic surgeon and has decided against removing them for now.

"The decision to have an implant removal is not one I take lightly, and while the risk of BIA-ALCL is a concern, I am currently focused on monitoring my breast implants for any symptoms associated with this condition. However, I may choose to undergo replacement surgery in the future to mitigate these risks," she explains.

After finding out that the Allergan BIOCELL® implants had been withdrawn from the worldwide market, Annabelle felt furious. She has since started a blog called Cosmetic Surgery Advancements where she posts regular updates about this case, telling Mamamia she is particularly upset to see the dozens of deaths associated with BIA-ALCL.

"I believe that Allergan prioritised profit over patient safety. In the UK where I reside, numerous women received these implants through The UK National Health Service during breast reconstruction for breast cancer. Understandably, many of these women now desire implant replacements, and the financial burden of replacing these implants falls on the NHS," she says.

"It's crucial for all individuals with natural breasts or breast implants to engage in regular breast self-examinations, and familiarise themselves with the symptoms associated with BIA-ALCL."

When Cassandra, now 49, was told late last year that she had BIA-ALCL, it left her shell-shocked. She had never heard of it before. She also hadn't been informed about the Allergan BIOCELL® recall. 

"We're all given implant cards once the surgery is completed, so we know what implant was used and the date of the surgery. I checked both my cards and found that my implants were the ones recalled," she tells Mamamia.


"I had to have both implants removed. Had I been made aware from Allergan in 2019 when they were recalling, I probably never would have got the BIA-ALCL to start with. And I wouldn't be suffering the way I am right now."

On December 13, 2023, Cassandra was diagnosed with the cancer. Eight days later she had surgery to remove her implants and some lymph nodes. She still has scans done regularly, and as far as doctors are aware right now, it appears that Cassandra is cancer-free.

From a financial perspective, the medical cost has been more than $1,000, not to mention the physical and mental toll.

"I'm still not right [emotionally]. Every time I look down I'm disappointed. Something that I tried to fix, an original problem I was born with, has turned into a problem that could potentially have killed me," she says.

"I've had to take time off work, my kids have suffered. My grandkids don't understand why I can't pick them up and hug them. Having to sleep in a bra with a vacuum attached to it, being in pain, snapping at those I love, not being very social anymore, having horrible scars — it's terrible. Obviously I'm very grateful to be cancer-free, but it's a long road and everything could change."

Soon after her diagnosis, Cassandra googled extensively about her situation, coming across the Allergan BIOCELL® recall. She then saw the Shine Lawyers class action and immediately contacted them. She's one of thousands, and the class action is currently at the investigation stage.

"Any woman who has developed BIA-ALCL, is symptomatic, had the implants removed and is or will be out of pocket as a result of removing these implants, should join our class action investigation," says Vicky Antzoulatos, joint head of class actions at Shine Lawyers. 


"Some women will have scarring and disfigurement as a result of implant removal surgery and some will suffer health complications for the rest of their lives. These implants were also used for breast reconstruction surgery on women who had already recovered from breast cancer. It has been reported that one in every 2,500-3,000 women with these implants will develop lymphatic cancer."

Cassandra wishes she had been made aware of the recall — either by the hospital that performed her surgery, or by the manufacturer of the breast implants.

"It wouldn't have been hard to contact me, I have not changed my email or my phone number in 25 years, so the details associated with my implant surgery are still the same. I wasn't given that knowledge. And that power was taken away from me," she says.

"If I can share this information and it saves someone else going through what I'm going through, that feels like a win. If you have these implants, be very vigilant and go to your doctor. If you have implants at all, really, you need to be mindful. And regardless, we all need to be checking our breasts because our health is number one."

Mamamia has reached out to Allergan for comment. If/when a reply is received, we will update this article with their statement.

*Cassandra's name has been changed for privacy reasons. Her identity is known to Mamamia. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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