Is there a link between hernia mesh and cancer?

Cancer is a potential complication from hernia mesh devices that become infected. A 2013 article in the journal Hernia reported on two people who developed SCC (squamous cell carcinoma) of the abdominal wall as a result of their mesh becoming infected.

mutation
Cancer is one of the less common complications of hernia implant meshes.

Hernia mesh infections and cancer

One cause of cancer is chronic inflammation, which in turn may result from a long-term infection. Even though most hernia meshes are made from non-carcinogenic materials, it is possible for these devices to cause a precancerous infection in the patient in either of the following circumstances:

  • the patient's body rejects the device ("mesh rejection");
  • the device dislodges and travels throughout the abdomen or elsewhere in the body ("mesh migration");
  • the surgical area where the device was implanted was invaded by bacteria, viruses, or other microbes which the body is not immune to;
  • the mesh pierces or pokes the bowel or other organ ("mesh perforation");
  • the device blocks the bowel ("mesh obstruction");
  • the device disintegrates ("mesh erosion");
  • the mesh rips or contracts;
  • the mesh is rubbing against and aggravating the skin; and/or
  • the hernia reappears

In short, hernia devices that malfunction in any way place stress on the surrounding skin and organs. This may turn into an infection and therefore inflammation. If the inflammation lasts long enough, cancer may occur.

The Hernia Journal cancer study

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A Hernia Journal article followed two patients who developed SCC from an infected mesh.

The Hernia article studied two patients whose meshes became infected and inflamed and presumably caused their SCC. Both patients elected to have radical surgical excision.

With the first patient, surgeons were able to cut out the tumor and affected bowel; however, they needed to use another polypropylene mesh to reinforce the abdominal wall. Following surgery, this patient underwent chemotherapy.

The second patient's case was already very advanced, with metastasis in the armpit and groin. Surgeons required a mesh in the excision operation, though the patient passed away within months. His death highlights how aggressive SCC is even in people who are not otherwise predisposed to cancer.

Preventing cancer in hernia mesh patients

The authors of the Hernia article claim that hernia mesh infection results from "misuse of mesh" and that "patients usually suffer for years until the infected mesh is removed[.]" Therefore, the authors warn that any infected device must be removed sooner rather than later in an effort to avoid inflammation and cancer. (Learn more about hernia device removal surgery.)

Patients who are considering getting hernia device implants should talk to their doctors about risks of infection, how to detect an infection, and alternatives to getting an implant. And patients with hernia devices should never ignore their symptoms: If they ever experience pain, tenderness, or a fever, they should contact a doctor immediately. 

Most of all, patients should feel empowered to advocate for themselves. If one doctor dismisses their concerns, they should seek a second opinion and ask for any testing that may detect an infection. A simple blood test can show an elevated white cell count, and often simply palpating the abdomen can reveal trouble spots.

Treating squamous cell cancer in hernia mesh patients

operation
Excision surgery is usually necessary for patients with an infected mesh.

Depending on the location of the tumors, oncologists will probably recommend "excision surgery" in an attempt to remove them. Like it sounds, this involves the surgeon cutting out the tumor as well as some normal tissue surrounding it.

Oncologists might also suggest radiation if the surgeon was unable to remove the entire tumor during the excision operation. Radiation may also be an option for patients too ill for surgery.

Depending on the stage of cancer, the patient may choose to under chemotherapy as well. This is usually recommended when the cancer has spread to other organs or lymph nodes.

There may also be modern treatment options involving immunotherapy. These are drugs that encourage the body's immune system to fight and kill the cancer.

Suing for hernia mesh injuries

People who developed cancer or other complications from their hernia device may be able to sue the hernia mesh medical manufacturers for:

  • negligence,
  • defective design, and/or
  • failure to warn

And for patients who passed away, their families may be able to bring a wrongful death suit against the manufacturers. The plaintiffs' attorneys would seek large hernia mesh compensatory damages to reimburse plaintiffs for their:

  • medical bills,
  • pain and suffering,
  • lost wages (including tips and bonuses), and
  • loss of future earnings

Depending on the case, the plaintiff's matter may be combined with an existing MDL (multi-district litigation) lawsuit. MDLs help to speed up the litigation and negotiation process so that a global settlement may be reached as quickly as possible. (Learn more about proving your hernia mesh personal injury lawsuit.)

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