Science dispels health risks of silicone breast implants
After nearly seven years of discussion, debate, litigation and extensive scientific study, the controversy surrounding the safety of silicone breast implants can largely be laid to rest. Recent scientific studies have absolved silicone gel breast implants of causing health problems in women. In the past year alone, two major multi–year studies found no evidence linking these implants to connective tissue disease.On June 21, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences released a report that found women with silicone gel implants are no more likely than the rest of the population to develop cancer, immunologic diseases or neurological problems.
Leroy Young, MD, a professor of plastic surgery at St. Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine, has been actively researching the safety of silicone implants for years, both independently and through studies funded by the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation and the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation. He says that the research findings help answer many questions about silicone breast implants that up until recently, have been driven by speculation.In 1982, the FDA ruled that manufacturers of implants should provide additional evidence of their safety, but the ruling wasn’t enforced until 1991 when public attention became focused on the possibility of risks from implant use. In 1992, the FDA called for a halt to the general use of silicone gel implants except in clinical trials of breast reconstruction and replacement after cancer surgery.Too little, too late.The FDA’s intervention led the way for a variety of litigation and class action suits against implant manufactures, before sufficient scientific data was gathered to prove or disprove the symptoms attributed to implants. For those companies, all the scientific study results exonerating silicone breast implants from causing systemic illnesses have come too late.
Call for further research
With the release of recent study results, the tarnished image of silicone gel breast implants may be on the mend. Many research committees still suggest that continued screening measures be undertaken to identify the frequency of rupture rates in implants, since no reliable data exists today.“Plastic surgeons recognize the need for rupture rate research and are currently funding studies to address the issue,” says Dr. Schnur. “Every implant, whether silicone or saline, has a rupture rate. As a specialty, we are committed to finding out what that rate is.”For saline implants, ruptures are fairly easy to detect and occur at different rates for different implants. For some types of implants this can be as high as four percent per year within the first 10 years. “In a matter of days, the implant will deflate,” says Dr. Young. “Silicone implants present a more challenging scenario because there may be no physical signs that they are leaking.”Dr. Young emphasizes that if a silicone gel implant rupture is detected, it is not an emergency situation.