Report Finds Silicone Implants Cause No Disease

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Silicone breast implants do not cause serious diseases such as cancer, lupus, or other chronic disorders, but they are not entirely safe either, according to a report published Monday.

A committee named by the Institute of Medicine, the medical arm of the nonprofit National Academy of Sciences, says a careful study of all the evidence indicates that women with silicone breast implants are no more likely to develop chronic disease than women without the implants.

The report caps a series of such reports that have all found no reason to believe that breast implants have damaged the health of the millions of women who have had them.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the silicones used in transplants are toxic to humans,” the committee said in a statement.

“Although studies do not show a risk of life-threatening illness from silicone breast implants, it is clear that they can cause serious problems,” added Stuart Bondurant of the University of North Carolina, who chaired the committee.

“It is essential that women fully understand these risks before they decide to undergo this surgery.”

The most serious documented problems came from the tissue around the implants contracting, the implant itself rupturing, or an infection developing.

Many women had alleged that the silicone in the implants, which makers say is chemically inert, leaked out and caused illnesses ranging from cancer to rheumatoid arthritis to lupus, a serious but hard-to-define disease in which the body’s immune system seems to attack a range of organs.

But the Institute of Medicine committee failed to find any hard evidence to support them.

“There is no established link between implants and a unique disease syndrome,” the report said. “Syndromes of the type ascribed to implants generally involve symptoms that are nonspecific and common to the general population.”

The 13-member committee of doctors, nurses and other experts also said they failed to find anything showing that silicone damages the immune system.

But the report did note that many women felt they were not adequately warned about the possible dangers of implants and said the devices could interfere with mammograms, which are used to screen for breast cancer.

The Michigan-based Dow Corning, a joint venture of Dow Chemical Co. and Corning Inc., was once the world’s largest maker of silicone gel implants.

It filed for protection from creditors in May 1995 after thousands of women filed suit alleging their implants caused health problems.

Earlier this month a Chapter 11 bankruptcy court reorganization plan was approved for Dow Corning. It had been called for in an agreement reached last year with a committee representing about 176,000 women for a $3.2 billion settlement.

“This study provides additional solid evidence that breast implants do not cause disease,” Dow Corning Vice-President Barbara Carmichael told reporters in a telephone briefing.

“While we have always believed that, it is reassuring to see the fifth major scientific panel to reach the same conclusion.”

Activists who have supported implant recipients say they feared that the panel was given insufficient information.

“One of my major concerns all along has been the lack of data, the lack of information. There still is a terrible, terrible lack of information about the long-term risk of implants,” Diana Zuckerman, a former national director for the National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families told reporters in a telephone briefing.

“With breast implants we are not sure how long you have to study women to know what is going on.”