No way breast implants should be considered safe ~
By DR. JONATHAN WALKER
Houston Chronicle Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 19:35:52 -0700
June 23, 1999, 06:50 p.m.
THE public controversy over silicone-gel breast implants
simply won't go away. And neither, apparently, will the
Recent data suggest that growing numbers of women are
once again choosing breast implants of all types, lulled,
perhaps, by a spate of recent news articles implying that
the safety of these devices has finally been established.
As a physician who treats many women suffering serious
medical consequences associated with silicone-gel implants,
I find this new trend very disturbing.
Much has been made in the news media of a recent report
issued by a National Science Panel at the direction of U.S.
District Court Judge Sam C. Pointer. However, this report
does not exonerate silicone-gel breast implants.
Indeed, a vast literature of medical studies of "in vitro"
immunoassays, human cell cultures and experimental
animal research published in leading medical journals all
document a host of complex immune system effects linked
with silicone exposure.
But perhaps more important, what's being lost in this
highly charged public debate is the human suffering that
doctors like myself confront on a daily basis.
Dozens of women have come to my office seeking help. By
now the similarities in their medical histories are familiar.
They were told the devices involved little or no risk. Later
their bodies began to exhibit alarming symptoms --
extreme pain centered in the joints and muscles,
debilitating fatigue, scary and unsettling memory lapses,
dry eyes, night sweats, chronic inflammations and other
ailments signaling that something clearly is wrong.
The consistent appearance of these diverse health problems
in implanted women suggests an underlying problem.
Dr. Louise Brinton, the National Cancer Institute's chief
environmental epidemiologist, along with other top
researchers, has suggested that women with implants may
be suffering from a "silicone-related" disease. Based on my
own examinations, and on those of my colleagues, women
with implants do appear to have a higher than average
likelihood of being afflicted by this unusual set of symptoms.
Very little of the research (epidemiology in particular) has
focused on the "atypical" symptoms of women with
implants, an inadequacy that a panel convened by the
National Institutes of Health said needs to be addressed. Dr.
Brinton herself is conducting a large epidemiological study
with some clinical review. With the results due out later this
year, it is hoped her data will shed much-needed light on
On one point, however, there is no doubt -- the implants
themselves fall apart in the body. A number of safety
studies, including one by researchers at the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration, report that the envelope encasing the
silicone gel, itself made of silicone, deteriorates as the
devices age. After 10 years, more than half of implants
begin to break apart; after 20 years, nearly all have fallen
Furthermore, there is no doubt that implants cause painful
and debilitating complications. A Mayo Clinic study shows
one in four women require additional surgery within five
years due to medical complications with their implants.
These include deformity, burning rashes, rotting breast
tissue and migration of the implant away from the breast
area. Hardly a safe product.
Studies have shown that silicone leaking from implants may
travel throughout a woman's body. Using animal models,
researchers have found that the silicone leaking from
implants collects at the highest concentrations in the brain,
uterus, ovaries and lungs. What happens when silicone
invades these vital organs? There is evidence of a systemic
autoimmune response to silicone in some women.
Recently, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine
reported that an injection of silicone compounds like those
used in implants induced, in some cases, fatal liver and lung
damage in mice. They write, "Our findings indicate that
these compounds (silicones) are highly toxic and produce
extensive tissue injury and death in these mice."
As a treating physician, my job is to alleviate the suffering
of my patients and protect the health of others. On behalf of
my patients suffering debilitating complications from
silicone-gel breast implants, and on behalf of those still
contemplating implants, I anxiously await complete and
independent scientific research that gets to the truth
behind these illnesses and these faulty products.
We still do not have the results of such research available.
In the meantime, I appeal to the public -- and especially the
news media -- to defer judgment and to view the safety of
these devices with suspicion.
Walker is a neurologist who practices in Dallas. He has a
long-standing interest in autoimmune diseases and the
management of chronic pain.
Click the back button on your browser to go BACK to HOME