Breast Implant Safety Concerns Raised By UK Investigation

Dr. Brad Jacobs holds up a silicone implant gel (L) and a saline implant gel (R) inside of his office November 21, 2006 in New York City. The federal government approved silicone implants last week after they were banned by the government for 14 years following concerns that the implants were not safe. Averages of 300,000 women in the United States have their breasts surgically enlarged each year.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

An investigation on breast implants involving several leading news publications has brought a number of safety concerns to light in the United Kingdom, including a possible association between the most popular type of silicone breast implant in the U.K. and a rare form of cancer.

As explained by BBC News, breast implants come in smooth and textured varieties, with the latter type being used by about 99 percent of British women, based on figures from the British Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Aesthetic Surgeons (BAAPS). Despite concerns raised by authorities in France, this has not resulted in any warning from U.K. regulators as women continue to have these implants put in despite the supposed risks.

“We know that there are ongoing concerns about the safety of silicone breast implants – we’re keeping a very close eye on that,” read a statement from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA).

In addition to the lack of an official warning on the risks of having textured silicone breast implants put in, manufacturers of such products have maintained that they are safe to use, saying that they have been extensively used for over a decade in America and Europe and put through a battery of tests to ensure their safety.

Despite these assurances, BBC News noted that there have been cases in which women developed a form of immune system cancer called breast implant-associated lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). The publication discussed the case of Janet Trelawny, who won her battle with breast cancer 20 years ago after getting textured implants in place of her natural breasts, which were removed. Recently, she was diagnosed with BIA-ALCL, and as she told BBC News, she had “no idea” that developing such a cancer was possible.

“It’s frightening to think that something that I’d done because I’ve had cancer previously has then caused me to get cancer again,” said Trelawny.

According to BBC News, French authorities have been studying the possible safety risks of breast implants since 2011, when the first cases of women developing BIA-ALCL were reported.

All in all, the risk of getting BIA-ALCL after receiving textured silicone breast implants is believed to be “very small,” though the actual risk could vary across different parts of the world. Based on statistics from September of this year, the MHRA has recorded 57 supposed cases of BIA-ALCL in patients with breast implants, with close to 80 percent of them meeting the diagnostic criteria.

On top of the possible link between BIA-ALCL and textured breast implants, there could be a number of other potential safety issues with these products. On Monday, the Guardian published the results of an investigation it conducted with the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the BBC’s Panorama investigative journalism program, and the British Medical Journal, revealing “wide-ranging concerns” that went beyond the aforementioned cancer risks.

According to the Guardian, there have been over 1,200 “serious” incidents associated with breast implants over the past three years, in which the products supposedly caused issues that required a second operation in about 75 percent of the cases. Many cases also involved pain, allergic reactions, and psychological issues, though the probe did not reveal the specific causes of the complications.

The investigation revealed a few other general issues with breast implants in the U.K., including the alleged use of “non-clinical-grade materials” in the production of implants from “leading” manufacturers, and the mysterious absence of “huge numbers” of women from safety-oriented clinical trials. BBC News also noted that there were several European and American manufacturers that allegedly under-reported issues with the breast implants they manufacture.