Category Archives: Problems With Implants

Sientra’s Silimed Brand “Gummy Bear” Silicone Gel Breast Implants Pose Safety Questions

gummy-bear-bubblegumMingxin Chen, MHS and Diana Zuckerman, PhD, The National Center for Health Research

In December 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Sientra’s for its “Silimed silicone gel breast implants.” These implants are also called “gummy breast implants” because they are made of a thicker gel that is said to resemble candy gummy bears.

To gain approval, the company was required to submit the results of a clinical trial to prove that the implants were safe and effective. A 5-year study of these implants was published in the November 2012 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, authored by three Sientra employees and several plastic surgeons who were paid by Sientra to conduct the research.1 The study included 1,788 participants with 3,506 breast implants.

Re-operation, Rupture, and Capsular Contracture

The three major complications measured were needed for a re-operation, rupture, and capsular contracture. They can occur at any time, and become more common as the implants age. Capsular contracture refers to the formation of scar tissues around breast implants which becomes hard and potentially painful as the patients’ immune system reacts to the implant. MRIs were conducted on 571 of the 1788 participants to assess rupture that has no obvious symptoms.

The study indicated that the overall risk of rupture during the five years of the study was 2%, but that is misleading because the rupture rate was higher when “silent ruptures” measured by MRI were counted. MRI is the most accurate way to determine if an implant is ruptured, and more than 4% of first-time augmentation patients had a rupture within 5 years, which is much higher than expected. The risk of capsular contracture was 9% overall, and did not vary much for the different types of patients.

In contrast, the risk of reoperation varied considerably: 43% for first time reconstruction patients, 48% for reconstruction revision patients, compared to 17% for first time augmentation patients and 30% for augmentation revision patients. Revision patients are those whose previous implants were replaced with the Sientra implants.

Other Complications

There were many other complications affecting appearance and health. Most complications are highest for patients whose implants are for reconstruction after mastectomy; for example, 11% have asymmetry, 5% have an infection; 4% have breast pain, 4% of the implants are not in the correct position, and 3% have abnormal scarring. Complications are even higher for reconstruction patients who had earlier implants replaced by Sientra implants: 15% have breast asymmetry, 7% have implants in the wrong place, 5% have breast lumps or cysts, and 4% have breast pain.

For first-time augmentation patients, 3% have nipple sensation changes (either losing sensation or painfully sensitive) and 3% have sagging breasts. As noted earlier, reoperation, capsular contracture, and rupture are more common. Other complications, such as pain and swelling, add up, but each of these others complication is below 3%. Among revision augmentation patients, 5% have implants in the wrong position, 3% develop sagging breasts, 3% have wrinkling around the implant, and 3% have breasts that look asymmetrical.

Despite these high level of complications within only five years was high, the authors defended the implants. For example, they stated that over half of the patients who removed or replaced their implants did so for cosmetic reasons, predominantly patient request for style/size change. Regardless of the reason however, additional surgery is expensive and puts the patient at risk. And for breast cancer patients who chose mastectomy and implants so they would not have to think about cancer, these surgeries are a very unwelcome reminder.

The authors claimed Silimed is superior to the other two implant brands, Allergan and Mentor, in terms of risk of complications, as its risk of capsular contracture among first-time and revision augmentation patients within 5 years is 9% and 8%, in comparison with Allergan’s 13% and 17%, and Mentor’s 9% and 20%, both within 4 years.

Sientra, based in Santa Barbara, California, is the third largest global manufacturer of silicone implantable devices. The approval of the first gummy bear implants was welcomed by plastic surgeons, who pointed out that these implants had been manufactured and distributed outside of North America for 15 years.  However, the FDA approved the implants based on only 3 years of data, rather than the longer studies that would have been possible since the implants were on the market for 15 years.

All articles are reviewed and approved by Diana Zuckerman, PhD, and other senior staff.

Breast Implants After Mastectomy: Risks You Need to Know

Diana Zuckerman, PhD

The complication rate for getting breast implants after mastectomy has been described by experts as “alarmingly high and arguably unacceptable,”2 even though most of the information about complications is based on studies that were paid for by companies that make breast implants or silicone.

How safe are breast implants and how many women have complications after getting reconstruction with breast implants after a mastectomy? When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved breast implants, they acknowledged that the complication rate is very high for all women, especially those undergoing reconstruction after a mastectomy. What the FDA did not know, however, is that early-stage breast cancer patients that undergo mastectomy and reconstruction with breast implants are 10 times as likely to commit suicide as other early-stage breast cancer mastectomy patients.

Complications from Implants

We do not know why the suicide rate is so high for mastectomy patients with breast implants, but we do know that complications are very common. For example, a study conducted by implant manufacturer Inamed (now called Allergan) found that 46% of reconstruction patients needed additional surgery within the first 2 to 3 years after getting silicone gel breast implants 3. Not surprisingly, the implant maker did not publish an article describing this high complication rate, which was more than twice as high as the 21% reported in a study funded by a company that makes silicone (Dow Corning).1

Why was the complication rate lower in the Dow Corning study? One explanation is that the women in that study had breast implants for an average of only 23 months, compared to 2-3 years in the Inamed study. Even so, the Dow study found that 31% of the women developed at least one serious complication and 16% developed at least 2 serious complications in that short period of time. The Inamed study reported that 25% underwent implant removal, 16% experienced Baker III-IV capsular contracture (which is painful breast hardness), 6% experienced necrosis (death of breast tissue), 6% had other types of breast pain, and 6% had an implant that ruptured, and other women reported infections and other complications.2  This shows that both studies found very high complication rates despite a short follow-up of less than 3 years.

The Dow-funded study concluded that “reconstruction failure (loss of implant) is rare.” Of course, it should be rare after less than 2 years. In contrast, when Inamed used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs) to detect rupture, they found that 20% of reconstruction patients had ruptured implants by the third year;4 but very few ruptures were detected without MRIs. Since Henriksen did not use MRIs. Since the Dow Corning study did not use MRIs to detect rupture, they couldn’t accurately count the number of failed implants.  Moreover, FDA scientists concluded that the risk of rupture would likely increase exponentially every year.5

Many plastic surgeons claim that the Institute of Medicine concludes that breast implants are safe. However, the Institute of Medicine report was completed in 1999, years before most research was conducted. Most research on breast implant patients was published after 1999, making the report very outdated. Many of the studies reported higher levels of diseases or symptoms among women with breast implants, which would have reached statistical significance if the studies were larger and women were followed for a longer period of time.

Can implants cause cancer or other serious diseases?

Experts around the world now agree that breast implants can cause a type of cancer of the immune system called ALCL (anaplastic large cell lymphoma).  In fact, there is now a specific diagnosis called breast implant associated ALCL (BIA-ALCL).  If caught early, removal of the breast implants can be very effective, but if not treated quickly it can be fatal. 6

The link between breast implants and other cancers remains controversial.  Studies paid for by plastic surgeons or implant companies tend to conclude that breast implants are safe. Since breast implants can cause cancer of the immune system, it seems logical that implants might have an impact on other diseases of the immune system or other cancers.  For example, FDA scientists reported a significant increase in fibromyalgia and several other autoimmune diseases among women whose silicone gel breast implants were leaking, compared to women with silicone implants that were not leaking outside the scar tissue capsule.4 In addition, scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found a doubling of deaths from brain cancer, lung cancer, and suicides among women with breast implants compared to other plastic surgery patients.7 National Cancer Institute scientists concluded that more research was needed to determine if implants increase the risk of cancer or autoimmune diseases.5,6

The Bottom Line

Many women choose mastectomies to “get rid of the cancer once and for all” hoping that it is the safest strategy for dealing with breast cancer.  However, research shows that women who have lumpectomies live longer than women with the same diagnoses that chose mastectomies instead. Research makes it clear that there are many complications from breast implants that often keep women needing additional surgery and medical help in the years after breast cancer is removed, including the possibility of cancer of the immune system.  Unfortunately, many women tell us that their doctors did not warn them about these risks. [Read a New York Times article about a woman with ALCL here.]

Some of the information from this article was based on Dr. Zuckerman’s article published in Archives of Surgery, Vol 141, pages 714-715. The original article can be found here.

Why are celebrities removing their breast implants?

Amelia Murphy

Celebrities who removed their breast implants

Every now and then, a new celebrity is in the news after announcing her decision to remove her breast implants. They speak out about the importance of loving yourself the way you are, they post some Instagram pictures of “the new me,” and the public eagerly reads the related articles in tabloid magazines.

But most of these women aren’t just talking about body image; they are getting their implants removed because of their health. Breast implants can make some women so sick that removal is their best hope for feeling like themselves again.  Several celebrities are trying to spread this information to the general public.

crystal_hefner_2014Crystal Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s wife, opened up about her breast implant horror story on Facebook. She announced her implants had been slowly poisoning her and causing unexplained back pain, cognitive problems, constant neck and shoulder pain, recurring infections, and many other symptoms. Once she removed her breast implants, she instantly felt an improvement and continues to feel better. [Read more about her story in this Forbes article]

Yolanda Foster, of Real Housewives fame, removed her breast implants when she found out her silicone implants had ruptured and were leaking into her body. The silicone was making the symptoms of her Lyme disease even worse. She felt much better once she removed her implants.

Linda Blair, actress in the horror movie The Exorcist, described her experience with breast implants as a nightmare. After removing her implants, she advocated for the FDA to make sure breast implants are actually studied to be safe.

Mary McDonough, a child star in The Waltons who appeared as an adult in shows such as ER and Will and Grace, attributes her autoimmune disease (lupus) to her breast implants. She was healthy before getting implants, and it was only after her implants were removed that she immediately started to feel better. She has been one of the most outspoken celebrities on the risks of breast implants.

Karen McDougal is a former Playboy Playmate and current model who made the decision to have her implants removed after months of feeling sick. She has spoken out about the risks of breast implants in USA Today and People Magazine.

Mariel Hemingway, Sharon Osbourne, and Stevie Nicks are just a few of the other celebrities who chose to remove their breast implants because of serious health problems.

Celebrities are bringing attention to the health problems that thousands of women with implants have suffered from for decades.

First, a little history:

Women have been getting breast implants since the 1960’s, and although silicone gel implants were drastically restricted for many years during the mid-1990’s through 2005 because of safety concerns, the FDA approved them again in 2006 based on short-term studies done by breast implant manufacturers. FDA also required the manufacturers to do larger, longer-term studies after that, in order to make sure they were safe (these are called post-market studies).

These longer-term studies had a lot of problems, and most women did not stay in the studies long enough to provide useful scientific information.  However, studies have shown that the longer women have silicone breast implants, the more likely they are to experience problems with them.  FDA reported that the studies found that as many as 1 out of every 5 women who get silicone breast implants for cosmetic reasons need to remove their implants within 10 years.[1] This number rises to 1 out of every 2 women if they got reconstruction after a mastectomy.[1]  Were the women who dropped out of the studies the ones that were more likely to have health problems, or less likely?  You can read more about the unanswered questions from these studies here.

Breast implants were approved by the FDA even though research showed that between 15% and 20% of first-time augmentation patients will need additional surgery to fix implant problems within 3 years, whether the implants are filled with silicone gel or saline. [2][3] The chances of needing additional surgery increases as time goes on — 28% of women are on the second set of implants after 3 years, and this number doubles when the women have their implants for 6 years. The percentage is even higher than that for mastectomy patients whose implants were for reconstruction.

Are Your Breast Implants Making You Sick- (2)What usually goes wrong?

  • Rupture: All breast implants will eventually break, sometimes within a few months or years, and usually within 10 years.
  • Capsular Contracture: This is when the breasts get firm, then hard, and they can be very painful. Breast implants are a “foreign body” and the natural response for most women is that their body forms scar tissue around the implant, inside their body, to protect their body from this “foreign invader.”  This is a natural process. However, it’s called capsular contracture when the scar tissue tightens or hardens around the implants and causes abnormal firmness, hardness, or pain.
  • Pain: Besides pain caused from capsular contracture (see above), breast implants can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain because of their weight. Leaking silicone gel can also cause a painful burning sensation.
  • Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL): This is a rare kind of cancer of the immune system that is more likely to occur in women with breast implants. [4] If diagnosed early, removing the implants can cure the disease.
  • Autoimmune issues:  Experts disagree on whether breast implants cause specific autoimmune diseases.  However, the fact that implants can cause cancer of the immune system (ALCL) certainly makes it more likely that implants can cause other autoimmune problems.  FDA scientists found that women with ruptured and leaking silicone gel breast implants were more likely to have fibromyalgia, a painful autoimmune disease.[5]  Many women have reported suffering from autoimmune symptoms such as joint pain, hair loss, dry eyes, or mental confusion after getting breast implants, and have also reported that these symptoms often improve or disappear after removing the implants. One study even showed the autoimmune symptoms got better for 3 out of 4 women after they removed their implants.[6]
  • Constant flu-like symptoms: Many women report feeling constantly tired or like they’re trying to get over the flu.
  • Learn more about complications from breast implants in FDA’s consumer handbook.

Besides health problems, some celebrities decide to remove their implants simply because they were annoying or embarrassing. Just to name a few, Heather Morris, Heidi Montag, Pamela Anderson, Victoria Beckham, and Jane Fonda all removed their implants for this reason.

Plastic surgeons refer to breast augmentation as a very simple surgical procedure, and as a result many people think of breast implants as an insignificant surgery with few health risks.  Hearing about celebrities who removed their breast implants sometimes makes women think twice about getting them in the first place.  It helps remind all of us to do careful research before making any decision about putting something inside your body.

ALCL Update: In March 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its website to report that breast implants could cause a type of cancer of the immune system called Anaplastic Large-Cell Lymphoma (ALCL). No celebrities have reported ALCL from their implants.

Are you considering breast implants? Find out more information here.

Are you thinking about removing your breast implants? Find out more information here.

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[1] FDA Update on the Safety of Silicone Gel-Filled Breast Implants. Center for Devices and Radiological Health U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Page 7. June 2011

[2] Important Information for Augmentation Patients About Mentor MemoryGel™ Silicone Gel-Filled Breast Implants, Mentor. (FDA Patient Brochure) November 2006. Pages 25-27. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cdrh_docs/pdf3/p030053d.pdf

[3] Making An Informed Decision Saline-Filled Breast Implant Surgery, Inamed. 2004 Update. Pages 24, 32. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/implantsandprosthetics/breastimplants/ucm064457.pdf

[4] Miranda et al. Breast Implant–Associated Anaplastic Large-Cell Lymphoma: Long-Term Follow-Up of 60 Patients. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Volume 32, Number 2. January 10 2014.

[5]  Brown SL, Pennello G, Berg WA, et al. Silicone Gel Breast Implant Rupture, Extracapsular Silicone, and Health Status in a Population of Women. J Rheumatology. 2001; 28:996-1003.

[6] de Boer M, Colaris M, van der Hulst RRWJ, Cohen Tervaert JW. Is explantation of silicone breast implants useful in patients with complaints? Immunologic Research. July 2016 DOI: 10.1007/s12026-016-8813-y\

Not Receiving Coverage for Breast Implant Problems?

We want to make sure that health insurance policies cover treatment and implant removal when it is medically necessary.

Under “Obamacare” health insurance companies can’t deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and can’t discriminate against women.  But some insurance companies are planning to deny coverage for any complications related to breast augmentation, even if treatment is medically necessary (such as removal of leaking breast implants, painful capsular contracture, or ALCL, a rare type of lymphoma that can be caused by breast implants).  We believe that this would be illegal.

We have spoken to several state officials who agree with us, but they tell us they have not had any complaints about lack of coverage in recent years and don’t think it is a problem.

If you or anyone you know had a health insurance policy that refused to pay for medically necessary treatment related to breast implant problems, please fill out our survey here immediately! Have additional questions? Email us at info@breastimplantinfo.org OR call us TOLL FREE at (844) 295-2212.

We know that many women have had this experience, but we need to hear from the women themselves (or their family members).  Any experiences like this within the last 3 years are especially welcome.

If you can help spread the word through friends or social media, we’d be grateful!

Less Radical Surgery is a Healthier Choice for Women with Breast Cancer

Brandel France de Bravo, MPH and Diana Zuckerman, PhD

Updated 2017

Experts have long advised that lumpectomy patients live as long as mastectomy patients.  But the latest research, based on hundreds of thousands of women, indicates that women with DCIS or early-stage breast cancer are more likely to live longer, healthier lives if they choose less radical surgery.

Four studies indicate that lumpectomy patients live longer.

In a study of almost half a million women with breast cancer in one breast, Harvard cancer surgeon Dr Mehra Golshan  reported in 2016 that those undergoing double mastectomies did not live longer than women undergoing a mastectomy in only one breast.[1] On average, women who underwent a lumpectomy instead of mastectomy lived longer than women undergoing either a single or double mastectomy for cancer in only one breast.

Similarly, a study of more than 37,000 women, also published in 2016, women with early-stage breast cancer who underwent lumpectomy with radiation were more likely to be alive 10 years later, compared to women who underwent mastectomies.[2] They were also less likely to have died of breast cancer or of other causes.  This was true even when age and factors that could influence survival were taken into account.

Dr. Shelly Hwang and her colleagues found similar results in a 2013 study of more than 112,000 California women who had lumpectomies to remove their early-stage breast cancer were more likely to be alive and free of breast cancer 5 years after surgery than women who had mastectomies.[3] The women had been diagnosed between 1990 and 2004 with either Stage 1 or 2 breast cancer. All of them had either a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy. After surgery, their health was monitored for an average of 9 years (the women were all studied for 5-14 years). The women who had a lumpectomy and radiation tended to live longer than the women who had mastectomies, when controlling for age at diagnosis, race, income, education levels, tumor grade or the number of lymph nodes with cancer. Lumpectomy with radiation was especially effective for women who were 50 years and older with hormone-receptor positive tumors: they were 19% less likely to die of any cause during the study than women just like them who had mastectomies. Perhaps more surprising, they were 13% less likely to die of breast cancer than women just like them who had mastectomies.

In a study published in 2014, Dr Allison Kurian and her colleagues at Stanford studied 189,734 California patients diagnosed from 1998 to 2011 with early-stage breast cancer in one breast, ranging from Stage 0 (DCIS) to Stage 3.[4The study showed that the percentage of women having both breasts when only one breast had cancer (called bilateral mastectomies) increased dramatically, but there was no advantage to that more radical approach.  Instead, the women who underwent lumpectomies (removing only the cancer, not the entire breast) lived longer and were more likely to be alive 10 years after diagnosis compared to women undergoing a mastectomy.  Women who had both breasts surgically removed did not live longer than those undergoing a mastectomy on one breast.

Compared to women in other countries, women in the U.S. who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer are more likely to remove both breasts even if only one has cancer. It is not known why bilateral mastectomy provides no medical advantage, but a study of more than 4,000 cancer patients by Dr. Fahima Osman at the University of Toronto indicates that having a healthy breast removed in addition to the breast with cancer increases the chances of medical complications.[5] Removing the healthy breast (“contralateral breast”) doubled the chances of having wound complications in the first month after surgery: from about 3% for women who had only the breast with cancer removed to about 6% for women who also had the healthy breast removed. About 4% of women who had a single mastectomy experienced some kind of complication (not necessarily wound-related) in the 30 days after surgery, compared to 8% of women who had both breasts removed. The risk of cancer in that healthy breast was already less than 1% per year unless the woman has a BRCA gene or some other very high risk factor.[6] Hormone pills such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors can further reduce that already low risk.

The Bottom Line: these enormous studies of women in the U.S. and other countries make it clear that women with DCIS or early-stage breast cancer should undergo surgery to remove only the DCIS lesion or cancer, not the entire breast.   The women who undergo lumpectomy with radiation usually live longer than those who undergo mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy.  In addition, mastectomy patients who have breast implants are more likely to kill themselves compared to mastectomy patients without implants. Unfortunately, the fear of breast cancer and desire to “get rid of the problem” has resulted in too many women undergoing mastectomies or bilateral mastectomies that threaten their lives.  Physicians and breast cancer advocacy groups need to make sure that patients understand why lumpectomy with radiation is a better idea.

For a free booklet on treatment options for DCIS, click here.  For a free booklet on treatment options for early-stage breast cancer, click here.

References 

  1. Wong, S., Freedman, R., Sagara, Y., Aydogan, F., Barry, W., & Golshan, M. Growing Use of Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy Despite no Improvement in Long-term Survival for Invasive Breast Cancer. Annals of Surgery. 2016 March; doi:10.1097/SLA.0000000000001698
  2. Marissa C. van Maaren, et al, “10 year survival after breast-conserving surgery plus radiotherapy compared with mastectomy in early breast cancer in the Netherlands: a population-based study”. Lancet Oncol. 2016 Aug; 17(8): 1158–1170. Published online 2016 Jun 22. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(16)30067-5
  3. Hwang ES, et al “Survival after lumpectomy and mastectomy for early stage invasive breast cancer: The effect of age and hormone receptor status” Cancer 2013 April 1; 119(7); DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27795.
  4. Kurian, Allison W., Daphne Y. Lichtensztajn, Theresa H. M. Keegan, David O. Nelson, Christina A. Clarke, and Scarlett L. Gomez. “Use of and Mortality After Bilateral Mastectomy Compared With Other Surgical Treatments for Breast Cancer in California, 1998-2011.” The Journal of the American Medical Association 2014; 312(9): 902-914. DOI:10.1001/jama.2014.10707
  5. Osman, Fahima, et al “Increased postoperative complications in bilateral mastectomy patients compared to unilateral mastectomy: an analysis of the NSQIP database.” 2013 Oct; 20(10): 3212–3217. Published online 2013 Jul 12. doi: 10.1245/s10434-013-3116-1
  6. National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer Treatment (PDQ®). http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/breast/healthprofessional/page1