No way breast implants should be considered safe ~
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
 implants themselves.

 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
 the subject.

 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
 apart .

 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.

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