F.D.A. recently approves silicone breast implants for Breast Cancer Survivors

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • The F.D.A.’s recent approval of silicone breast implants for both cosmetic purposes in women 22 and older, and for all women facing certain health issues (including breast reconstruction as a result of cancer), is bound to provoke a firestorm of reactions, both pro and con. Isn’t that always the case, when there’s big money at stake, and something–unfounded rumor, scientific fact, a coalition of passionate nay-sayers–standing in the way?

    Silicone breast implants were first introduced in the 1960s. After 20+ years of use, both for cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, they were banned as being unsafe. One study found that as many as 69% of women with implants experienced ruptures, resulting in the implants becoming hard and painful. Some claimed leaking silicone traveled through their bodies, causing cancer and autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis. A class-action suit by women against several implant manufacturers resulted in settlements in the women’s favor, and triggered the withdrawal of the implants from the market in 1992.
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    Now, 15 years and no doubt multiple clinical studies later, they’re back. Why? Well, because women prefer their look and feel, when they’re working right. They’re softer and more “natural” than saline implants, and if you’re after cosmetic results, surely you want something as much like a regular breast as possible.

    But what about if you’re losing a breast to cancer? Choosing silicone vs. saline vs. reconstruction vs. a simple mastectomy certainly adds to the confusion. Do you believe those women who sued 3M, and Dow-Corning, and Bristol-Myers, claiming their silicone implants had led to cancer? Or to rheumatoid arthritis? Or to a poisoning of their autoimmune systems? Or do you believe the F.D.A., or the Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences), both of which claim silicone implants, while they may still rupture and be painful, are basically safe? And even if you decide they’re safe, how do you choose between silicone, with its chance of rupturing; and reconstruction, with its chance of failure (necrotic tissue, hard spots, a not-quite-right shape)?

    Or… doing nothing?

    Even if you weren’t in the first mind-numbing stage of cancer treatment, it would be enough to make your head spin. Considering you’re already experiencing a lot of emotional stress, this decision might feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    OK, take a deep breath; let it out slowly. This decision is like any other you’ll be asked to make as you undergo treatment. You weigh the pros and cons; consider the risks, and the benefits; and make the decision that feels right for YOU. Some of us are risk-takers, willing to undertake a chancier proposition for the possibility of a better outcome. Others of us would rather know for sure where the road leads, even if it leads somewhere not quite as satisfactory as we’d hope.

    Don’t take the F.D.A.’s approval as proof that silicone implants are perfectly safe; don’t believe every woman on a TV talk show who claims silicone ruined her life. The truth is, as usual, somewhere in between. Make your choice, and don’t look back. This decision is no different that any other you’ll make; life is always uncertain, and all we can do is hope for the best.
Published On: November 29, 2006