A woman got breast implants after a breast cancer diagnosis. Then she got cancer linked to the implants.

Business Insider Lifestyle 2 months ago

In 2011, the FDA linked a rare form of cancer called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL, to Allergan's Biocell breast implants.

As of September 2018, the FDA received 457 reports of BIA-ALCL, including nine deaths "which may be attributable" to the cancer, according to a letter the FDA wrote to healthcare providers.

In July, Allergan voluntarily recalled the cancer-linked implants at the request of the FDA.

Robbie Hegwood was one of the women who developed BIA-ALCL. It was her third cancer diagnosis, according to her daughter Delena Dinwiddie, but it wouldn't be her last.

Although chemotherapy put Hegwood into remission from BIA-ALCL, her breast cancer returned.

"My mother of 56 years old is in her fight that she won't win with cancer ... She would never have got the implants if she would have known there was a chance she would get cancer from them," Dinwiddie wrote in an email to Insider.

This is Hegwood's story.

This is 56-year-old Robbie Hegwood. She's had cancer four times.

This is 56-year-old Robbie Hegwood. She's had cancer four times.
Delena Dinwiddie/Robbie Hegwood

She was diagnosed with uterine cancer when she was 28 years old, and later went into remission.

When she was 42, Hegwood was diagnosed with breast cancer.

When she was 42, Hegwood was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Delena Dinwiddie/Robbie Hegwood

To treat the breast cancer, Hegwood underwent chemotherapy and had a mastectomy where doctors removed her breasts.

To treat the breast cancer, Hegwood underwent chemotherapy and had a mastectomy where doctors removed her breasts.
Delena Dinwiddie/Robbie Hegwood

In 2008, Hegwood elected to have reconstruction surgery, which is common following a mastectomy.

In 2008, Hegwood elected to have reconstruction surgery, which is common following a mastectomy.
Hegwood, left, and her daughter Delena, center.

Breast reconstruction procedures involve the use of tissue expanders and then breast implants to reconstruct the shape of a woman's breasts following their removal.

A 2014 report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that an estimated 35 out of 100,000 women have reconstruction after a mastectomy.

Hegwood doesn't remember the type of breast implants she had following her mastectomy.

In the years following, Hegwood was breast cancer-free. Dinwiddie said her mom eventually had her original implants replaced with a new set from Allergan.

In the years following, Hegwood was breast cancer-free. Dinwiddie said her mom eventually had her original implants replaced with a new set from Allergan.
Dinwiddie, center, and her parents at her wedding.

Dinwiddie said she wasn't sure why her mom got new implants, but believes it was part of a standard replacement procedure.

Women with breast implants need to have them replaced about every 10 years. If the implants leak or rupture before that, they need them replaced right away, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

In 2017, Hegwood started having pain in her breasts and broke out in red rashes all over her body.

In 2017, Hegwood started having pain in her breasts and broke out in red rashes all over her body.
Hegwood with her grandchildren.

Seven months later, Hegwood's surgeon sent some of her cells to a lab. The results showed she had BIA-ALCL, the cancer linked to the Allergan Biocell implants she'd put in to replace her first set of implants.

Seven months later, Hegwood's surgeon sent some of her cells to a lab. The results showed she had BIA-ALCL, the cancer linked to the Allergan Biocell implants she'd put in to replace her first set of implants.
Hegwood and her family.

Dinwiddie, who works as an oncology nurse, said she and the doctors she worked with had never heard of the rare cancer until her mother was diagnosed with it.

When Dinwiddie took her mom to the oncologist she'd been seeing for the past 11 years over, he too was perplexed at her new cancer diagnosis.

"The doctor said I'd rather it be breast cancer than lymphoma because at least I know how to treat it,'" Dinwiddie told Insider.

On August 6, Hegwood received this letter in the mail, confirming she had the now-recalled Allergan implants that were linked to the rare lymphoma cancer.

On August 6, Hegwood received this letter in the mail, confirming she had the now-recalled Allergan implants that were linked to the rare lymphoma cancer.
Anyone who had the now-recalled Allergan implants received this letter.

Allergan won't pay for women to have their implants removed.

Instead, the company will pay for the replacement implants, but not the surgery to replace them.

For this reason, two women (not Hegwood) have filed a class-action lawsuit against Allergan.

In 2017, following Hegwood's BIA-ALCL diagnosis, she began treatment in Nashville, an hour drive from her home in Manchester, Tennessee.

In 2017, following Hegwood's BIA-ALCL diagnosis, she began treatment in Nashville, an hour drive from her home in Manchester, Tennessee.
It turned out the rashes Hegwood broke out in her subcutaneous lymphoma from the Allergan breast implants.

In July 2017, Hegwood started chemotherapy for BIA-ALCL. After a few weeks, PET scans showed she was free of the rare cancer.

But then, three months later, the BIA-ALCL returned and spread to other parts of her body, Dinwiddie said.

"We started her on a new type of chemo and it was really, really tough," Dinwiddie said. "Every time she did the chemo she would spike a fever. It made her lose hair and weight. It almost killed her."

Three months later, Hegwood was in remission from BIA-ALCL. Dinwiddie said her mom would've never gotten breast implants if she knew she could get cancer from them.

Three months later, Hegwood was in remission from BIA-ALCL. Dinwiddie said her mom would've never gotten breast implants if she knew she could get cancer from them.
Hegwood and one of her grandkids.

In addition to chemotherapy, Hegwood underwent surgery to remove the remaining lymphoma and take out the Allergan implants. After that, she decided not to get another set of breast implants.

In February 2019, Hegwood received her fourth cancer diagnosis. She had developed breast cancer for a second time and her daughter said she "is in her fight that she won't win with cancer."

In February 2019, Hegwood received her fourth cancer diagnosis. She had developed breast cancer for a second time and her daughter said she
Hegwood, left, and Dinwiddie, right.

Hegwood's declining health has affected her entire family.

"Seeing her explain why Nana doesn't have hair or boobs to her grandchildren is heartbreaking," Dinwiddie said of her mom.

Hegwood participate in family outings as much as she used to because of her declining health, and Dinwiddie said her main goal with her remaining time is to spread the word about the scary side of breast implants.

"She wants awareness out there that implants can cause cancer," Dinwiddie said.

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