Some local plastic surgeons say they're being bombarded with calls from patients after reports of a possible link between cancer and a brand of foam-covered breast implant.
Dr. Gary Hunter's office received about 50 calls from patients, while Dr. Craig Davis' office handled about 20 calls in one morning. "Every time there's a report out we get calls," Davis said. "Polyurethane is the stuff they put in seat cushions. Most of us have never used those implants anyway."A new report being prepared by the Food and Drug Administration links the foam covering on an implant made by Surgitek, a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., with cancer discovered in laboratory rats. The implants studied are sold under the trade names Meme and Replicon.
The FDA report is expected in two or three weeks. Sharon Snider, an agency spokeswoman, said women with implants shouldn't assume they are in danger. "They just need to wait and see what the results of the study are. Women who are considering getting polyurethane breast implants might want to postpone the decision."
In addition, the FDA has required all implant manufacturers to report additional scientific information by July, in order to prove the medical devices are safe.
Jonathan Weisberg, a company spokesman, claims Surgitek's implants have a well-established safety record over the past 20 years. "There are no reported cases of human cancer associated with polyurethane foam in medical literature, nor are there reports of cancer in animals as a result of long-term implantation with this material."
Beside the alleged carcenogenic properties of the implant covering, others target the silicone gel found inside some brands of implants. The Public Citizen Health Research Group, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, contends that industry tests demonstrate silicone gel causes cancer in 23 percent of the animals studied.
"We think that the silicone gel is potentially very harmful and certainly deserves more study," said Benita Adler, of the research group.
Adler said she has talked to some 500 women who have developed chronic health problems years after receiving breast implants. It's a difficult link to prove, Adler said, because many of the problems have nothing to do with the chest tissue. Some health researchers believe that silicone can leak and migrate to other parts of the body.
"There haven't been any long-term studies on women who have implants," Adler said. "If a woman is having a problem five years down the road, she's probably not going to make the connection."
Short-term hazards include inflammation, scarring or hardening of the breast and surrounding tissues, swollen lymph glands and leakage. Long-term hazards include development of immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and connective tissue disease, according to Adler.
Officials estimate 2 million to 3 million U.S. women have breast implants, and about 25 percent of those are thought to have the foam covering implicated in the upcoming FDA report.
But local plastic surgeons say no conclusive studies have
proved any health risks from the implants. And in a recent study, a majority of women who received breast implants said they are happy with the results and would have the procedure again.
"There is a lot of media hype," said Dr. David Thomas, a plastic surgeon at LDS Hospital. "It sells television programs. It sells magazine ads. There still has never been any proven cancer relationship other than in rats."
Thomas believes he performs more breast operations per capita in Utah than he did in his Southern California practice, but there is no statistical evidence to back that up as no agency tallies the number of elective plastic surgeries performed each year. The procedure in Utah costs between $1,500 and $3,000.
Davis, a plastic surgeon at Cottonwood Hospital, performs about 150 breast implants per year. His patients are between 19 and 65 years old, but the average patient is 26 years old, married, and the mother of one or two children.