When Implants Cause Cancer

Journalists often use heartbreaking stories to make a point. Those stories thrill me when they educate and mobilize people to proper action. They worry me when they risk causing undue fear and leading people away from proper action.  

In A Shocking Diagnosis: Breast Implants 'Gave me Cancer,' NYTimes science journalist Denise Grady uses patient vignettes to bring attention to the increased risk of developing anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL) for people with breast implants.

Those personal stories are healing if they increase the chance that more…

·         Surgeons who do implants discuss this risk with patients considering implants.

·         Patients considering implants ask about this risk if their surgeon doesn’t mention it, so they can make informed decisions in keeping with their values.

·         Patients with breast implants who develop signs or symptoms of ALCL report to their doctors immediately—and seek a second opinion if their oncologist is unfamiliar with ALCL.

·         Patients diagnosed with implant-associated ALCL get a second opinion, if their surgeon does not recommend removing the implant.

Those personal stories are harmful if they increase the chance that…

·         Patients dismiss (or don’t realize) the rarity of implant-associated ALCL while deciding whether to have implants placed or removed—and then make a decision not in keeping with their values.

·         Patients with implants suffer increased anxiety.

·         Patients with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer worry more about the possibility of a future mastectomy.

Healthy Survivors use the power of stories in healing ways. What do you think of the stories?

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