Category Archives: Testimonies and Statements by NCHR

Breast Implant Working Group’s Comments on FDA’s Draft Guidance to Improve Patient Communication on Breast Implants

Scot Glasberg, MD,  Diana Zuckerman, PhD, Alan Matarasso, MD, Karuna Jagger, Raylene Hollrah, Jamee Cook, and Maria Gmitro, December 23, 2019


Download the comment here.

Comment to the FDA Docket on the FDA’s Draft Guidance to Improve Patient Communication on Breast Implants

A Working Group comprised of two former presidents of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the president of a national research center, and four nationally respected patient advocates came together to find common ground regarding the risks of breast implants.   As individuals (Dr. Scot Glasberg, Dr. Alan Matarasso, Dr. Diana Zuckerman, Ms. Karuna Jagger, Ms. Raylene Hollrah, Ms. Jamee Cook, and Ms. Maria Gmitro), we are urging that the FDA require a black box warning and Patient Informed Consent Check List that provides information about the risks of cancer, breast implant illness, and other serious health problems in explicit and easy-to-understand wording that all individuals considering breast implants can understand, regardless of educational level or stress that is inevitable when a person is considering surgery.

Black Box Warning

The FDA’s draft Black Box warning is too vaguely worded on BIA-ALCL and breast implant illness, and includes jargon that will not be understood by all patients.  For example, it should specify that breast implants can cause ALCL, breast implants are not lifetime devices (instead of FDA’s proposed Black Box wording that they are “not considered lifetime devices), replace technical jargon, and be more explicit about the evidence regarding breast implant illness instead of making it sound like it is not a real risk.

The FDA draft Black Box states that “breast implants have been associated with the development of a cancer of the immune system called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).”  Association implies correlation rather than causation.  In fact, the evidence is clear that breast implants can cause BIA-ALCL.

The FDA draft says that the rates of BIA-ALCL “are not well defined.”  Although correct, that terminology will not be understood by all patients.  Instead, it should state that the rates “are not known.”

We agree with the FDA draft that it is important to illustrate the seriousness of BIA-ALCL by stating that “Some patients have died from BIA-ALCL.”

The draft Black Box wording regarding symptoms of breast implant illness would be confusing to patients.  It refers to systemic symptoms, which is the correct term, but not one that all patients would understand.  It does not mention breast implant illness, which although not an established medical term, is one that is well understood by patients.  The FDA draft background paper and Black Box warning both state that “some” patients with breast implants “have reported a variety of systemic symptoms,” which implies that the numbers of women with these symptoms is small and that they reported the symptoms but that they haven’t been diagnosed.  That is incorrect.  The wording should be changed to “patients have experienced a variety of symptoms.”  The FDA proposed Black Box statement that “some patients report complete resolution of symptoms” again implies that these improvements are reported but not medically confirmed.

On the contrary, a review of several well-designed studies by De Boer et al. (2017) found that most women with breast implant illness who had their implants removed and not replaced were confirmed by physicians to have complete or substantial improvement in their symptoms and overall health.

In addition, the FDA draft Black Box does not mention the risk of autoimmune/connective tissue diseases.  The Black Box should specify that “several studies suggest that women with silicone gel or saline-filled breast implants have a small but significant increase in their chances of developing certain autoimmune or connective tissue diseases.” That statement is supported by the largest long-term study to date, by Watad et al. (2018), a retrospective analysis of 24,651 women with breast implants (confirmed by medical records) and 98,604 matched women who did not have breast implants. The strongest association with breast implants (OR>1.5, p<0.001) was recorded for Sjögren’s syndrome, systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) and sarcoidosis, based on new medical diagnoses made after the women received breast implants, which were included in medical records during a period of up to 20 years.  In addition, (Coroneos et al. 2019) reported that Allergan’s study of 60% of the almost 50,000 women they enrolled in their study submitted to the FDA, physicians’ diagnoses of their patients two years after their implant surgery found statistically significant increases in fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus compared to the general population.  Although the Mentor data reported in that study are very flawed, the Allergan data, which were provided to the FDA, seem solid.

Patient Informed Consent Checklist

The Breast Implant Working Group created a checklist that was provided to the FDA in October.  This checklist has been endorsed by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the National Center for Health Research, Breast Cancer Action, Our Bodies Ourselves, National Women’s Health Network, Jacobs Institute for Women’s Health, Breast Implant Victims Advocacy, Just Call Me Ray, and Breast Implant Safety Alliance.  It was also supported by more than 77,000 individuals who signed a petition that the Working Group provided to FDA officials on December 9, 2019

We agree with the FDA that the purpose of a patient checklist is to provide information for patients considering breast implants for augmentation or reconstruction, so that they can carefully weigh the risks and benefits of breast implants and make the decision that is right for them. Based on our experience with patients, we urge the FDA to ensure that the checklist is:

  • Brief and easy-to-understand, formatted with information on specific issues that are presented succinctly;
  • Jargon-free. Keep in mind that the average reading level in the U.S. is 6th
  • Organized to focus on the information that patients are less likely to obtain from other sources. It should not start with lengthy sections that are not especially interesting to patients.

Focus and Organization of the Checklist

The goal of the checklist should be to provide the most essential information that patients might not get from standard informed consent forms. It is therefore essential that the checklist provide information that thousands of implant patients have stated they were not warned about.  For that reason, the checklist should not focus on surgical and cosmetic risks, which are the types of risks that all patients are warned about in standard consent forms.  Instead of the almost full page of mostly surgical risks that are listed at the beginning of the FDA’s draft checklist, such risks should be summarized very briefly in one sentence, with the checklist focused on other risks that patients could otherwise not be aware of.  Similarly, cosmetic and local risks should be listed last in the checklist, since that information is more likely to be provided through other means.

The FDA draft checklist starts with “Considerations for a Candidate for Successful Breast Implantation,” cancer risk and a short section on “systemic illness.”  We suggest shorter, more focused headings and information to make the checklist more engaging and easy to read.

Who shouldn’t get breast implants?

The above heading should replace “Considerations for a Candidate for Successful Breast Implantation,’ since that latter heading implies that the patient characteristics listed are the only ones that would reduce the chances of complications or other problems.  In terms of content, the FDA draft wording on who should not get breast implants contains important information but is much too long and includes information that could be summarized.  The goal of the checklist should be to provide the most essential information that patients might not get from standard informed consent forms.  We recommend a short summary regarding active infections, cancer, or wound healing, and the following wording instead:

I understand that the safety of breast implants was never studied for people who have autoimmune symptoms or diseases, or a family history of those diseases. Breast implants may be more likely to cause serious health problems and symptoms for these people.  In addition, breast implants may not be safe for anyone with a weakened immune system or certain genetic risk factors that have not yet been identified.

Risk of Cancer: BIA-ALCL (Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma)

We recommend that the FDA’s draft wording for BIA-ALCL could be improved as follows:

I understand that there is a small risk for me to develop BIA-ALCL, a cancer of the immune system. BIA-ALCL is a type of lymphoma that develops on or around the scar capsule that surrounds the breast implant. I understand that the symptoms of BIA-ALCL include breast swelling, lumps, pain, and asymmetry that develop after surgical incisions are completely healed, usually years after implant surgery.

Treatment for BIA-ALCL includes removal of the implant and scar capsule, and, if not treated early, may include chemotherapy and radiation. This diagnosis and treatment may be at my own expense and is not always covered by insurance. 

Systemic Symptoms:  Breast Implant Illness

As noted earlier, “Breast Implant Illness” should be the term used, since “systemic symptoms” is not a term that all patients would understand.  Also as noted earlier, the FDA draft guidance and draft checklist consistently imply that the number of women reporting symptoms of breast implant illness is small and that there is no research evidence that the symptoms are caused by their implants.  For example, the FDA’s draft wording that “some women report” implies that a small number of women are claiming an illness that isn’t real.  It is more accurate and meaningful to patients to say that several studies support the apparent causal link to breast implant illness symptoms (Watad et al 2017 and Colaris et al. 2017) and to symptom improvement after implants are removed (DeBoer et al. 2017), for example).  It should also state that the largest, long-term studies also indicate a statistically significant increase in certain autoimmune or connective tissue diseases, as summarized on page 2 of this document, citing Watad et al. 2018 and Coroneos et al. 2019). For that reason, ASPS, researchers, women’s health organizations, and patient groups endorse the following wording:

I understand that because of the lack of long-term safety data, we are still learning about the health problems that result from breast implants.  To date, thousands of women have reported to the FDA or to researchers that they have experienced serious health problems that several studies have linked to their breast implants. This may occur either immediately after getting implants or years later. These often include symptoms such as: joint and muscle pain or weakness, memory and concentration problems, chronic pain, depression, fatigue, chronic flu-like symptoms, migraines, or rashes and skin problems.

Several studies of women with breast implants have shown that they are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with one or more of the following diseases compared to other women:  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Multiple Sclerosis (MS); Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA); Sjögren’s syndrome; and Systemic Sclerosis/Scleroderma.

Although women who develop these symptoms or diseases can’t be certain that they were caused by breast implants, several studies indicate that most symptoms improve partially or completely after having their implants and capsules removed.

Breast-Implant Specific Risks

This heading in the FDA’s draft Checklist is misleading, since BIA-ALCL and many other risks of breast implants are specific to breast implants.  More important, this section is much too long and includes too many topic areas.

We therefore recommend the following shorter, more specific sections:

How long do breast implants last?

It’s essential that patients understand what it means when experts say that breast implants “don’t last a lifetime.”  Since many implant patients are young, some think that means they only last 30-50 years.  Even saying “the longer you have them, the more likely they are to break” can be misinterpreted to refer to 30 or 40 years later.  For that reason, the Working Group Checklist specifies “Implants may rupture or leak at any time, and that is more likely the longer you have them” and that “it is likely that I will need other surgeries related to my breast implants over the course of my life.”

The wording should be succinct, explicit, and easy to understand.  Augmentation patients are already aware that their insurance policy does not cover cosmetic surgery, but it is important for them to also know that insurance is unlikely to cover subsequent surgeries due to complications or breakage, since they might mistakenly assume that problems related to implants will be covered even if the initial cosmetic surgery is not.  We recommend the following wording:

I understand that breast implants are not expected to last for the rest of my life.  Implants may rupture or leak at any time, and that is more likely the longer you have them.  In addition, it is likely that I will need other surgeries related to my breast implants over the course of my life.  If I am a cosmetic surgery patient, my health insurance policy may refuse to cover these surgeries for removal, and probably would not cover replacement. These additional surgeries and procedures can include implant removal with or without replacement, muscle and tissue repair, scar revisions, MRI diagnostic exams, or other procedures. I understand that undergoing multiple surgeries may increase my chances of permanent breast deformity.

Chemicals and Metals in Breast Implants

Patients should be informed about the chemicals and metals in the specific make and model of breast implants they are considering.  Since the checklist is for all breast implant patients, it should include a brief, general statement about chemicals and heavy metals, but each patient should get separate, more detailed information about the specific model of implant they are considering.  We recommend the following wording for the checklist:

I understand that all breast implants contain chemicals and small amounts of heavy metals that may cause health problems. I understand that most of these chemicals are confined to the shell of the implant or stay inside the shell.  However, small quantities have been found to diffuse (bleed) from or through the implant shell, even if the implant is intact and not ruptured.

Rupture and Leakage

Patients would benefit from a section with a heading of “Rupture and Leakage.”  Although this overlaps with the issue of how long implants last, more specific information about silent rupture is important.  We recommend the following wording for the checklist, understanding that if FDA no longer recommends MRIs after 3 years, that wording should be revised, but the explicit information about the risks of silicone migration should be included:

I understand that the longer my breast implants are in place, the more likely they are to rupture, especially after the first few years. When a saline implant ruptures, it usually deflates quickly. When a silicone gel implant ruptures, I may not notice any changes and the rupture may not be detected by my doctor or by mammogram, MRI, or sonogram. I understand that an MRI is recommended for silicone gel breast implants 3 years following surgery and every 2 years after that to check for silent rupture, and that these MRIs often are not covered by health insurance. I understand that silicone may migrate from the implant into nearby tissues such as the chest wall, lymph nodes, upper abdominal wall, and into organs such as the liver or lungs where it cannot be removed. Since migrated silicone can cause health problems, it is currently recommended that any ruptured silicone implant should be removed as soon as possible. I understand that, if needed, treatment of these conditions may be at my own expense and not covered by insurance or a manufacturer warranty.

Capsular Contracture

Capsular Contracture is a common complication that therefore should have its own heading.  Our recommended wording is as follows:

I understand that one of the most common complications of breast implants is when the scar tissue capsule that forms around the implant hardens. In some cases, this can be quite painful, distort the shape of the breast, and can make mammography more painful and less accurate. Removing the implant and capsule without replacing the implant is the only recommended way to guarantee that this problem is corrected.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer issues should be a separate heading in the checklist, not part of the section on ACLC, in order to avoid confusion.  Our recommended wording is as follows:

I understand that all breast implants can interfere with mammography and breast exams, possibly delaying the diagnosis of breast cancer. I understand that if I get breast implants, I should inform the mammography technologist about the implants and ask for additional views to improve the accuracy. I understand that mammography can also cause the breast implant to rupture or leak.

Interference with Breastfeeding

Since the data are lacking, our recommended wording is as follows:

I understand that breast implants and breast surgery may interfere with my ability to successfully breastfeed.  No long-term research has been conducted to determine the possible transmission of chemicals and heavy metals in the breast milk of women with implants.

Loss of Sensation to Breast or Nipple(s)

Many women do not understand that breast implant surgery can cause loss of sensation.  While more likely among reconstruction patients, it is important to note that augmentation patients can also experience loss of sensation or painful sensitivity.  We therefore recommend this wording:

I understand that breast implants and breast surgery may cause the nipple or breast to be painful, or to have decreased sensation. These changes may be temporary or permanent, and may affect sexual response or the ability to nurse a baby.

Cosmetic Complications

Cosmetic complications should be the last section of the checklist, because like surgical complications they are often included in standard informed consent documents.  We recommend the following brief, easy to understand, but explicit warnings, such as using the term “sag” instead of ptosis:

I understand that if my breasts had slightly different shapes before surgery, they may remain slightly different after surgery. I understand that the implants may cause the breasts to look slightly different in size or shape. I understand that the implant may move from the original placement location and that may result in asymmetry or other cosmetic problems. Breast implants can cause the breasts to sag over time due to the weight of the implants. I understand that if I am not happy with the results, I may need future surgeries to improve the appearance of my breasts.

 

FOOTNOTES:

Colaris MJ, de Boer M, van der Hulst RR, Cohen Tervaert JW. (2017) Two hundred cases of ASIA syndrome following silicone implants: a comparative study of 30 years and a review of current literature. Immunologic Research 65(1):120-128. doi: 10.1007/s12026-016-8821-y

Coroneos C, Selber J, Offodile A, et al. (2019) US FDA breast implant postapproval studies: Long-term outcomes in 99,993 patients. Annals of Surgery 269(1):30-36. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000002990

De Boer M, Colaris M, van der Hulst RR, Cohen Tervaert JW (2017) Is explantation of silicone breast implants useful in patients with complaints? Immunologic Research 65(1):25-36. doi: 10.1007/s12026-016-8813-y

Watad A, Quaresma M, Brown S, et al (2017) Autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (Shoenfeld’s syndrome)—an update. Lupus 26(7):675-681. doi:10.1177/0961203316686406

Watad A, Rosenberg V, Tiasano S. et al. (2018) Silicone breast implants and the risk of autoimmune/rheumatic disorders: A real-world analysis. International Journal of Epidemiology. 47(6):1846-1854. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyy217

 

 

Breast Implant Working Group’s Comments on FDA’s Draft Guidance to Improve Patient Communication on Breast Implants

Scot Glasberg, MD,  Diana Zuckerman, PhD, Alan Matarasso, MD, Karuna Jagger, Raylene Hollrah, Jamee Cook, and Maria Gmitro, December 23, 2019


Download the comment here.

Comment to the FDA Docket on the FDA’s Draft Guidance to Improve Patient Communication on Breast Implants

A Working Group comprised of two former presidents of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the president of a national research center, and four nationally respected patient advocates came together to find common ground regarding the risks of breast implants.   As individuals (Dr. Scot Glasberg, Dr. Alan Matarasso, Dr. Diana Zuckerman, Ms. Karuna Jagger, Ms. Raylene Hollrah, Ms. Jamee Cook, and Ms. Maria Gmitro), we are urging that the FDA require a black box warning and Patient Informed Consent Check List that provides information about the risks of cancer, breast implant illness, and other serious health problems in explicit and easy-to-understand wording that all individuals considering breast implants can understand, regardless of educational level or stress that is inevitable when a person  is considering surgery.

Black Box Warning

The FDA’s draft Black Box warning is too vaguely worded on BIA-ALCL and breast implant illness, and includes jargon that will not be understood by all patients.  For example, it should specify that breast implants can cause ALCL, breast implants are not lifetime devices (instead of FDA’s proposed Black Box wording that they are “not considered lifetime devices), replace technical jargon, and be more explicit about the evidence regarding breast implant illness instead of making it sound like it is not a real risk.

The FDA draft Black Box states that “breast implants have been associated with the development of a cancer of the immune system called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).”  Association implies correlation rather than causation.  In fact, the evidence is clear that breast implants can cause BIA-ALCL.

The FDA draft says that the rates of BIA-ALCL “are not well defined.”  Although correct, that terminology will not be understood by all patients.  Instead, it should state that the rates “are not known.”

We agree with the FDA draft that it is important to illustrate the seriousness of BIA-ALCL by stating that “Some patients have died from BIA-ALCL.”

The draft Black Box wording regarding symptoms of breast implant illness would be confusing to patients.  It refers to systemic symptoms, which is the correct term, but not one that all patients would understand.  It does not mention breast implant illness, which although not an established medical term, is one that is well understood by patients.  The FDA draft background paper and Black Box warning both state that “some” patients with breast implants “have reported a variety of systemic symptoms,” which implies that the numbers of women with these symptoms is small and that they reported the symptoms but that they haven’t been diagnosed.  That is incorrect.  The wording should be changed to “patients have experienced a variety of symptoms.”  The FDA proposed Black Box statement that “some patients report complete resolution of symptoms” again implies that these improvements are reported but not medically confirmed.

On the contrary, a review of several well-designed studies by De Boer et al. (2017) found that most women with breast implant illness who had their implants removed and not replaced were confirmed by physicians to have complete or substantial improvement in their symptoms and overall health.

In addition, the FDA draft Black Box does not mention the risk of autoimmune/connective tissue diseases.  The Black Box should specify that “several studies suggest that women with silicone gel or saline-filled breast implants have a small but significant increase in their chances of developing certain autoimmune or connective tissue diseases.” That statement is supported by the largest long-term study to date, by Watad et al. (2018), a retrospective analysis of 24,651 women with breast implants (confirmed by medical records) and 98,604 matched women who did not have breast implants. The strongest association with breast implants (OR>1.5, p<0.001) was recorded for Sjögren’s syndrome, systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) and sarcoidosis, based on new medical diagnoses made after the women received breast implants, which were included in medical records during a period of up to 20 years.  In addition, (Coroneos et al. 2019) reported that Allergan’s study of 60% of the almost 50,000 women they enrolled in their study submitted to the FDA, physicians’ diagnoses of their patients two years after their implant surgery found statistically significant increases in fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus compared to the general population.  Although the Mentor data reported in that study are very flawed, the Allergan data, which were provided to the FDA, seem solid.

Patient Informed Consent Checklist

The Breast Implant Working Group created a checklist that was provided to the FDA in October.  This checklist has been endorsed by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the National Center for Health Research, Breast Cancer Action, Our Bodies Ourselves, National Women’s Health Network, Jacobs Institute for Women’s Health, Breast Implant Victims Advocacy, Just Call Me Ray, and Breast Implant Safety Alliance.  It was also supported by more than 77,000 individuals who signed a petition that the Working Group provided to FDA officials on December 9, 2019

We agree with the FDA that the purpose of a patient checklist is to provide information for patients considering breast implants for augmentation or reconstruction, so that they can carefully weigh the risks and benefits of breast implants and make the decision that is right for them. Based on our experience with patients, we urge the FDA to ensure that the checklist is:

  • Brief and easy-to-understand, formatted with information on specific issues that are presented succinctly;
  • Jargon-free. Keep in mind that the average reading level in the U.S. is 6th
  • Organized to focus on the information that patients are less likely to obtain from other sources. It should not start with lengthy sections that are not especially interesting to patients.

Focus and Organization of the Checklist

The goal of the checklist should be to provide the most essential information that patients might not get from standard informed consent forms. It is therefore essential that the checklist provide information that thousands of implant patients have stated they were not warned about.  For that reason, the checklist should not focus on surgical and cosmetic risks, which are the types of risks that all patients are warned about in standard consent forms.  Instead of the almost full page of mostly surgical risks that are listed at the beginning of the FDA’s draft checklist, such risks should be summarized very briefly in one sentence, with the checklist focused on other risks that patients could otherwise not be aware of.  Similarly, cosmetic and local risks should be listed last in the checklist, since that information is more likely to be provided through other means.

The FDA draft checklist starts with “Considerations for a Candidate for Successful Breast Implantation,” cancer risk and a short section on “systemic illness.”  We suggest shorter, more focused headings and information to make the checklist more engaging and easy to read.

Who shouldn’t get breast implants?

The above heading should replace “Considerations for a Candidate for Successful Breast Implantation,’ since that latter heading implies that the patient characteristics listed are the only ones that would reduce the chances of complications or other problems.  In terms of content, the FDA draft wording on who should not get breast implants contains important information but is much too long and includes information that could be summarized.  The goal of the checklist should be to provide the most essential information that patients might not get from standard informed consent forms.  We recommend a short summary regarding active infections, cancer, or wound healing, and the following wording instead:

I understand that the safety of breast implants was never studied for people who have autoimmune symptoms or diseases, or a family history of those diseases. Breast implants may be more likely to cause serious health problems and symptoms for these people.  In addition, breast implants may not be safe for anyone with a weakened immune system or certain genetic risk factors that have not yet been identified.

Risk of Cancer: BIA-ALCL (Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma)

We recommend that the FDA’s draft wording for BIA-ALCL could be improved as follows:

I understand that there is a small risk for me to develop BIA-ALCL, a cancer of the immune system. BIA-ALCL is a type of lymphoma that develops on or around the scar capsule that surrounds the breast implant. I understand that the symptoms of BIA-ALCL include breast swelling, lumps, pain, and asymmetry that develop after surgical incisions are completely healed, usually years after implant surgery.

Treatment for BIA-ALCL includes removal of the implant and scar capsule, and, if not treated early, may include chemotherapy and radiation. This diagnosis and treatment may be at my own expense and is not always covered by insurance. 

Systemic Symptoms:  Breast Implant Illness

As noted earlier, “Breast Implant Illness” should be the term used, since “systemic symptoms” is not a term that all patients would understand.  Also as noted earlier, the FDA draft guidance and draft checklist consistently imply that the number of women reporting symptoms of breast implant illness is small and that there is no research evidence that the symptoms are caused by their implants.  For example, the FDA’s draft wording that “some women report” implies that a small number of women are claiming an illness that isn’t real.  It is more accurate and meaningful to patients to say that several studies support the apparent causal link to breast implant illness symptoms (Watad et al 2017 and Colaris et al. 2017) and to symptom improvement after implants are removed (DeBoer et al. 2017), for example).  It should also state that the largest, long-term studies also indicate a statistically significant increase in certain autoimmune or connective tissue diseases, as summarized on page 2 of this document, citing Watad et al. 2018 and Coroneos et al. 2019). For that reason, ASPS, researchers, women’s health organizations, and patient groups endorse the following wording:

I understand that because of the lack of long-term safety data, we are still learning about the health problems that result from breast implants.  To date, thousands of women have reported to the FDA or to researchers that they have experienced serious health problems that several studies have linked to their breast implants. This may occur either immediately after getting implants or years later. These often include symptoms such as: joint and muscle pain or weakness, memory and concentration problems, chronic pain, depression, fatigue, chronic flu-like symptoms, migraines, or rashes and skin problems.

Several studies of women with breast implants have shown that they are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with one or more of the following diseases compared to other women:  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Multiple Sclerosis (MS); Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA); Sjögren’s syndrome; and Systemic Sclerosis/Scleroderma.

Although women who develop these symptoms or diseases can’t be certain that they were caused by breast implants, several studies indicate that most symptoms improve partially or completely after having their implants and capsules removed.

Breast-Implant Specific Risks

This heading in the FDA’s draft Checklist is misleading, since BIA-ALCL and many other risks of breast implants are specific to breast implants.  More important, this section is much too long and includes too many topic areas.

We therefore recommend the following shorter, more specific sections:

How long do breast implants last?

It’s essential that patients understand what it means when experts say that breast implants “don’t last a lifetime.”  Since many implant patients are young, some think that means they only last 30-50 years.  Even saying “the longer you have them, the more likely they are to break” can be misinterpreted to refer to 30 or 40 years later.  For that reason, the Working Group Checklist specifies “Implants may rupture or leak at any time, and that is more likely the longer you have them” and that “it is likely that I will need other surgeries related to my breast implants over the course of my life.”

The wording should be succinct, explicit, and easy to understand.  Augmentation patients are already aware that their insurance policy does not cover cosmetic surgery, but it is important for them to also know that insurance is unlikely to cover subsequent surgeries due to complications or breakage, since they might mistakenly assume that problems related to implants will be covered even if the initial cosmetic surgery is not.  We recommend the following wording:

I understand that breast implants are not expected to last for the rest of my life.  Implants may rupture or leak at any time, and that is more likely the longer you have them.  In addition, it is likely that I will need other surgeries related to my breast implants over the course of my life.  If I am a cosmetic surgery patient, my health insurance policy may refuse to cover these surgeries for removal, and probably would not cover replacement. These additional surgeries and procedures can include implant removal with or without replacement, muscle and tissue repair, scar revisions, MRI diagnostic exams, or other procedures. I understand that undergoing multiple surgeries may increase my chances of permanent breast deformity.

Chemicals and Metals in Breast Implants

Patients should be informed about the chemicals and metals in the specific make and model of breast implants they are considering.  Since the checklist is for all breast implant patients, it should include a brief, general statement about chemicals and heavy metals, but each patient should get separate, more detailed information about the specific model of implant they are considering.  We recommend the following wording for the checklist:

I understand that all breast implants contain chemicals and small amounts of heavy metals that may cause health problems. I understand that most of these chemicals are confined to the shell of the implant or stay inside the shell.  However, small quantities have been found to diffuse (bleed) from or through the implant shell, even if the implant is intact and not ruptured.

Rupture and Leakage

Patients would benefit from a section with a heading of “Rupture and Leakage.”  Although this overlaps with the issue of how long implants last, more specific information about silent rupture is important.  We recommend the following wording for the checklist, understanding that if FDA no longer recommends MRIs after 3 years, that wording should be revised, but the explicit information about the risks of silicone migration should be included:

I understand that the longer my breast implants are in place, the more likely they are to rupture, especially after the first few years. When a saline implant ruptures, it usually deflates quickly. When a silicone gel implant ruptures, I may not notice any changes and the rupture may not be detected by my doctor or by mammogram, MRI, or sonogram. I understand that an MRI is recommended for silicone gel breast implants 3 years following surgery and every 2 years after that to check for silent rupture, and that these MRIs often are not covered by health insurance. I understand that silicone may migrate from the implant into nearby tissues such as the chest wall, lymph nodes, upper abdominal wall, and into organs such as the liver or lungs where it cannot be removed. Since migrated silicone can cause health problems, it is currently recommended that any ruptured silicone implant should be removed as soon as possible. I understand that, if needed, treatment of these conditions may be at my own expense and not covered by insurance or a manufacturer warranty.

Capsular Contracture

Capsular Contracture is a common complication that therefore should have its own heading.  Our recommended wording is as follows:

I understand that one of the most common complications of breast implants is when the scar tissue capsule that forms around the implant hardens. In some cases, this can be quite painful, distort the shape of the breast, and can make mammography more painful and less accurate. Removing the implant and capsule without replacing the implant is the only recommended way to guarantee that this problem is corrected.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer issues should be a separate heading in the checklist, not part of the section on ACLC, in order to avoid confusion.  Our recommended wording is as follows:

I understand that all breast implants can interfere with mammography and breast exams, possibly delaying the diagnosis of breast cancer. I understand that if I get breast implants, I should inform the mammography technologist about the implants and ask for additional views to improve the accuracy. I understand that mammography can also cause the breast implant to rupture or leak.

Interference with Breastfeeding

Since the data are lacking, our recommended wording is as follows:

I understand that breast implants and breast surgery may interfere with my ability to successfully breastfeed.  No long-term research has been conducted to determine the possible transmission of chemicals and heavy metals in the breast milk of women with implants.

Loss of Sensation to Breast or Nipple(s)

Many women do not understand that breast implant surgery can cause loss of sensation.  While more likely among reconstruction patients, it is important to note that augmentation patients can also experience loss of sensation or painful sensitivity.  We therefore recommend this wording:

I understand that breast implants and breast surgery may cause the nipple or breast to be painful, or to have decreased sensation. These changes may be temporary or permanent, and may affect sexual response or the ability to nurse a baby.

Cosmetic Complications

Cosmetic complications should be the last section of the checklist, because like surgical complications they are often included in standard informed consent documents.  We recommend the following brief, easy to understand, but explicit warnings, such as using the term “sag” instead of ptosis:

I understand that if my breasts had slightly different shapes before surgery, they may remain slightly different after surgery. I understand that the implants may cause the breasts to look slightly different in size or shape. I understand that the implant may move from the original placement location and that may result in asymmetry or other cosmetic problems. Breast implants can cause the breasts to sag over time due to the weight of the implants. I understand that if I am not happy with the results, I may need future surgeries to improve the appearance of my breasts.

 

FOOTNOTES:

Colaris MJ, de Boer M, van der Hulst RR, Cohen Tervaert JW. (2017) Two hundred cases of ASIA syndrome following silicone implants: a comparative study of 30 years and a review of current literature. Immunologic Research 65(1):120-128. doi: 10.1007/s12026-016-8821-y

Coroneos C, Selber J, Offodile A, et al. (2019) US FDA breast implant postapproval studies: Long-term outcomes in 99,993 patients. Annals of Surgery 269(1):30-36. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000002990

De Boer M, Colaris M, van der Hulst RR, Cohen Tervaert JW (2017) Is explantation of silicone breast implants useful in patients with complaints? Immunologic Research 65(1):25-36. doi: 10.1007/s12026-016-8813-y

Watad A, Quaresma M, Brown S, et al (2017) Autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (Shoenfeld’s syndrome)—an update. Lupus 26(7):675-681. doi:10.1177/0961203316686406

Watad A, Rosenberg V, Tiasano S. et al. (2018) Silicone breast implants and the risk of autoimmune/rheumatic disorders: A real-world analysis. International Journal of Epidemiology. 47(6):1846-1854. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyy217

 

 

Dr. Diana Zuckerman’s Statement on FDA’s Draft Guidance on Labeling for Breast Implants


Statement of Dr. Diana Zuckerman, President, National Center for Health Research on October 23 Regarding FDA Labeling Recommendations to Improve Patient Communication Draft Guidance

We thank the FDA for proposing a black box warning and a patient Informed Consent check list that provides specific, understandable information about the risks of breast implants.  The FDA’s draft includes the types of information that we have proposed to the FDA in recent months in our work with patient advocates and plastic surgeons.  The devil is in the details, so we look forward to working with the FDA to finalize these materials so that patients can make better informed decisions in the future than most women considering breast implants have been able to make. We will  keep working closely with the FDA, patients, and plastic surgeons to make that goal a reality.

For more information see FDA’s Draft Guidance here.

Dr. Diana Zuckerman’s Statement on FDA’s Request for Recall of Allergan Breast Implants and Expanders


Statement of Dr. Diana Zuckerman, President, National Center for Health Research on July 24 Announced Recall of Allergan Biocell Breast Implants and Expanders

“The FDA announced today that at its request, Allergan is implementing a worldwide recall of their Biocell textured breast implants and expanders.  This recall is an important step toward reducing the risk of a type of cancer of the immune system called Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL) caused by breast implants.  Many other countries had already banned this type of Allergan textured breast implant, but the FDA had previously stated that such a ban was premature.  However, it was inevitable that either the company would voluntarily decide to withdraw them from the market to protect from lawsuits, or the FDA would persuade Allergan to do so.  It is a little surprising that the FDA is taking credit for the recall, since most recalls of medical devices are described by the companies as voluntary.

“When women decide to get breast implants for reconstruction after mastectomy or for breast augmentation, they should not be putting their lives at risk for lymphoma.  This recall will reduce that risk but it won’t eliminate it.”

For more information, see the FDA’s Press Release here.

NCHR Public Comment to FDA on Breast Implant Safety

National Center for Health Research, April 26, 2019


National Center for Health Research Public Comment on General and Plastic Surgery
Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee; Notice of Meeting [FDA-2019-N-0426].

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on FDA’s General and Plastic Surgery
Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee meeting on breast implants. The
National Center for Health Research is a nonprofit research center staffed by scientists, medical professionals, and health experts focused on research, programs, services, and policies that affect public health. Our Center analyzes scientific and medical data and provides objective health information to patients, providers, and policymakers. We do not accept funding from companies that make medical products, so we have no conflicts of interest.

Our Program to Help Women Seeking Insurance Coverage for Implant Removal

Since its founding in 1999, our Center has heard from thousands of women who told us that their breast implants have caused serious health problems. In 2015, we began to offer a program that helps women navigate their health insurance policies so that they can get coverage when the removal of breast implants is medically necessary. In the past 3 years, more than 6,000 women have contacted us, and the number continues to grow dramatically. Some weeks we are contacted by more than 200 new women seeking our help to get their breast implants removed because of serious medical problems. Their reasons for needing their implants removed include leaking and ruptured breast implants, chronic pain from capsular contracture or from implants that are too large, autoimmune or connective tissue symptoms or diseases (referred to as “breast implant illness”), and ALCL. Some women contact us after recently developing symptoms from their breast implants, while others have been living with chronic health issues for years but either did not know they might be related to their breast implants or did not have the financial resources to have their implants removed. Prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act, breast implants were considered a “pre-existing condition” and explant surgery was almost never covered by health insurance.

Most women tell us that had they known that breast implants might cause these serious health problems, they never would have gotten them. We hear every day how women trusted their doctors when they were told that breast implants were safe and that complications were rare.

Recent research on 123,255 Israeli women by Watad et al. concluded that breast implants
significantly increase the chances of a woman being diagnosed with several autoimmune
diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome. However, because the FDA has repeatedly denied a link between autoimmune or connective tissue symptoms and breast implants, insurance companies will rarely pay for the removal of implants for women with symptoms of breast implant illness, such as joint or muscle pain, chronic fatigue, mental confusion, rashes, hair loss, and persistent flu-like symptoms. Of the thousands of women who seek assistance from our organization, only about 20% are able to get their implants removed. Even fewer get insurance coverage for their medically necessary explant surgery. The rest have to empty their savings, rely on credit cards or loans, or borrow money from friends and family. Unfortunately, most women who are unable to get insurance coverage for their breast implant removal are also unable to afford to pay out-of-pocket for explant surgery, which is why so many live with debilitating symptoms and escalating health problems for years. What might start as gradual increases in symptoms become so debilitating that many of the women lose their jobs (and with it, often their insurance), their ability to care for themselves or their families, and sometimes their spouses.

Implications for the Registries

The PROFILE Registry is intended to gather information about patients with BIA-ALCL, but not other health problems. The National Breast Implant Registry is designed to include as many Board-Certified plastic surgeons and their patients as possible, and therefore focuses only on re-operations – information that is relatively easy for physicians to document. It does not include information about the range of life-changing symptoms that thousands of women have reported, and also fails to include the thousands of women who need to have their implants removed, but are financially unable to do so. As we have found in our program assisting women who desperately seek insurance coverage for explant surgery, the number of women who have their implants removed and not replaced is only a small percentage of the number of women who want explant surgery because of medical problems. The registry needs to be substantially improved by including information about the autoimmune and connective tissue disease diagnoses as well as the moderate to severe symptoms that women refer to as breast implant illness. In addition, registries need to include information from primary care physicians and non-surgical specialists who are often conducting medical tests in an effort to determine the cause of the women’s symptoms. Most women who experience autoimmune or other symptoms from their breast implants are making appointments with primary care physicians, rheumatologists, neurologists, and other specialists; they rarely return to their plastic surgeons because those symptoms aren’t clearly related to their implants. Moreover, they tell us that when they go to a plastic surgeon because they have heard from other patients that the symptoms may be related to their implants, most surgeons tell them they are mistaken.

Another major shortcoming of the current Registry is that the data from the Registry is not
available to researchers or the public unless the ASPS Foundation chooses to make it public. Since the FDA considers registries an important aspect of post-market surveillance, it is essential that the data be available to anyone who wants to analyze it.

If Implants Can Cause Serious Symptoms, Will Removal Improve Health?

Our Center recently conducted a study of 449 women who had sought our help and succeeded in having their implants removed in 2016, 2017, or 2018. Fifty-seven percent of the women filled out our online questionnaire, all between November 2018 and January 2019. All of the women who we contacted had provided medical information to us when we had previously tried to help them obtain insurance coverage for explant surgery. Fifty-nine percent of the women in the study had symptoms for more than 5 years before they had their breast implants removed and 25% reported having symptoms for more than 10 years before explant surgery. These findings are consistent with patients’ testimony at the FDA meeting and with what thousands of patients have told us over the years: Many women have had debilitating symptoms for years, but did not know they were linked to their breast implants. So, instead of removing their implants when they first noticed health problems, they waited years, and sometimes decades, to seek explant surgery without replacement. Whether because of lack of money or lack of information that their symptoms were caused by their implants, our findings suggest that a short, easy-to-understand booklet and informed consent checklist could help warn women with limited financial resources about the risks of breast implants and also help women recognize their symptoms and consider explant surgery as an option before their health deteriorates.

We asked about family and personal health history and found that 69% of the women in our study reported a family history of autoimmune disease, 3% reported a personal history of autoimmune symptoms prior to getting implants, and 51% of the women reported that they were newly diagnosed with an autoimmune disease after getting breast implants.

Using a Likert scale with responses ranging from “much worse” to “much better,’ 61% of the women reported that their symptoms were much better since getting their implants removed and an additional 29% reported that their symptoms were somewhat better after having their breast implants removed. After performing a logistic regression to determine the factors that independently predicted health improvement after explant surgery, having explant surgery that removed as much capsule as possible predicted improvement after explant, as did not having a family history of autoimmune disease.

Implications for Informed Consent

Although all implant companies have patient booklets, in our experience most women report never seeing those booklets. In addition, the booklets are much too long and technical; they range in length from 55 to 180 pages, and include a great deal of information that is difficult to understand or promotional rather than informational. Nevertheless, the patient booklets include important information, such as the warning that breast implants were not studied on women with a history of autoimmune disease and therefore the safety of implants is not established for those women. However, there is so much information in these lengthy booklets that these types of important warnings are unlikely to be noticed by either doctors or patients that read them.

Although all patients sign an “informed consent” document, many are too technical for the
average patient to understand and include information that may be vague or confusing. They are often signed without having been carefully read. Informed consent is supposed to be a process, not just a piece of paper. Patients tell us that regardless of what the informed consent forms stated, their plastic surgeons were very reassuring about how safe implants are, rather than being candid about the risks. At the FDA Advisory Committee meeting on March 25-26, many plastic surgeons spoke about how carefully they provide informed consent to their patients, but those claims were undermined by the fact that many of those same surgeons stated that their patients are very happy with their implants, that ALCL is very rare and ‘not a big deal’ if caught early, and that the symptoms of breast implant illness are the same symptoms that all women tend to have. It is obvious that these physicians are unable to provide objective, informed consent about risks if they think the risks are minimal or non-existent.

Improving Informed Consent

Women need better informed consent in terms of written material and in terms of what their physicians tell them. Patient booklets specific to each company and implant model should be no longer than 20 pages and written at an 8th grade reading level, which is the reading level recommended by health educators. They should include easy-to-understand information about complications and risks, including information about BIA-ALCL and symptoms of breast implant illness. They should also include information from studies indicating that many women with breast implant illness experience significant improvement when their implants and scar capsules are removed. The writing of these booklets should require consensus among a group of experts that includes patients harmed by implants and their physicians, Board-certified plastic surgeons who put in breast implants and Board-certified plastic surgeons who primarily explant, the relevant implant manufacturer, and health educators.

In addition, there should be a required checklist, no longer than 3-4 pages, that is similar to the one that the FDA required for Essure, that provides information about the potential risks of all breast implants including BIA-ALCL and breast implant illness. These should be read and signed by patients and their doctors prior to any nonrefundable deposits for surgery. The checklist should include a black box warning regarding BIA-ALCL and breast implant illness, and information about the potential improvement in health for women who have their implants removed and not replaced.

In conclusion, we urge the FDA to require an informed consent checklist that specifically and succinctly warns of the symptoms and disease development risks that the patients at this meeting have reported. We ask that the FDA require manufacturers to complete the large, long-term studies that evaluate systemic symptoms. And finally, we urge the FDA to develop a national registry that includes symptoms as well as re-operations.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.

For more information, please contact Diana Zuckerman, PhD, at dz@center4research.org.

Public Comments by Women’s Health Experts on General and Plastic Surgery Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee Meeting


National Center for Health Research Public Comment on General and Plastic Surgery Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee; Notice of Meeting.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on FDA’s General and Plastic Surgery Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee; Notice of Meeting.

We are writing on behalf of five nonprofit health organizations that have examined issues pertaining to women’s health for decades and have considerable expertise concerning breast implant safety issues. None of these organizations have financial or professional conflicts of interest pertaining to breast implant devices or surgery:

  • Breast Cancer Action is a national nonprofit grassroots membership organization with members across the country who are challenging the status quo and working to address and end the breast cancer epidemic.
  • The Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health identifies and studies aspects of healthcare and public health, including legal and policy issues, that affect women’s health at different life stages.
  • The National Center for Health Research is a nonprofit think tank that conducts, analyzes, and scrutinizes research, policies, and programs on a range of issues related to health and safety.
  • The National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) is a non-profit advocacy organization that works to improve the health of all women by supporting informed consumer decision-making.
  • Our Bodies Ourselves is a nonprofit educational and advocacy organization that has advanced the health and human rights for girls and women for almost 50 years.

As a follow-up to the FDA’s General and Plastic Surgery Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee Meeting on breast implants, we are writing to express our views and concerns about the current status of information about breast implants and the role of the FDA in regulating the devices.

1. There is insufficient research to determine the long-term safety of breast implants. The clinical trials submitted to the FDA have numerous shortcomings:

  1. They excluded women with a history of autoimmune disease.
  2. They had an unacceptably high “loss to follow-up.” At the FDA meeting, FDA scientists presented data from studies that had lost up to 85% of the patients to follow-up, even in the revised studies that had already eliminated the 95% of patients who had dropped out. Those revised studies were already hopelessly biased, and presenting the data as if it were meaningful was unacceptable. And, the numbers of patients were also unacceptably small in many cases, with several reconstruction and revision patient groups represented by less than a dozen patients. Accurate information on the safety of breast implants cannot be gleaned from studies with such inadequacies.

The studies of autoimmune and connective tissue disease funded by industry and plastic surgeons had a different set of problems:

  1. Many included small number of patients, some of whom had breast implants for short periods of time, ranging from one month to just a few years. This is not relevant to long-term safety issues, since implants tend to deteriorate and rupture over time.
  2. They evaluated the number of women with diagnoses of rare diseases, but did not include women with symptoms of those diseases, nor did they have the statistical power to evaluate significant differences between women with implants and women without implants.
  3. Many evaluated the number of women hospitalized with those rare diseases or whose medical records specified those diseases, but the studies included women who had implants for such a short time that it was unlikely that the women had yet been diagnosed or hospitalized.

2. Most women do not receive objective informed consent regarding the risks of breast implants during the decision-making process. When the FDA approved breast implants, the agency required that plastic surgeons share information about the risks in a patient booklet. Unfortunately, most women say that they do not receive these booklets prior to surgery, and the booklets themselves are too long and complicated to provide useful information to patients. For example, although the patient booklets warn that the safety of breast implants have not been studied in women with a history of autoimmune disease, that information is difficult to find in these 44-202 page patient booklets.

3. To improve informed consent, women considering breast implants need a shorter, easy to understand patient booklet, which harmed patients should help to write. These booklets should include quantitative data on risks of the company’s implants for augmentation patients and reconstruction patients that are easy to understand. As experts in educating women on health issues, we would be glad to participate in writing these booklets as well. In addition, we strongly urge that the FDA require a short, user- friendly check list that provides balanced information about the risks, similar to the 3- page check list that the FDA required doctors and their patients to sign to inform them of the possible risks of Essure. The current informed consent checklists provided by some implant companies are vague consent forms rather than specific information acknowledging the risks. Informed consent checklists should explain all of the associated risks, encourage informed and shared decision making by the patient, and ultimately prevent long-term harm. It should clearly and succinctly state the risks that can occur with breast implants, including BIA-ALCL, the possibility of autoimmune symptoms, the need to remove the implants as they age and rupture, and the cost of MRI screening for silent rupture. The checklist should include a black box warning about BIA-ALCL and breast implant illness. The checklist should also include information based on studies indicating that women with breast implant illness are significantly more likely to improve after their implants and capsules are removed.

4. Since almost all cases of BIA-ALCL are associated with textured breast implants, implant companies that make textured implants should be required to conduct large retrospective studies to evaluate if the implants have any benefits compared to smooth implants. Some plastic surgeons believe that textured implants are less likely to cause capsular contracture and some other problems, but the FDA has not vetted any data to support those claims. Similarly, the use of mesh in breast reconstruction has not been scientifically studied to determine risks or benefits, and FDA should add warnings to the label and the FDA website about that off label use. In the meantime, textured breast implants should carry a black box warning about BIA-ALCL and that information should be provided orally and in writing to all women considering implants.

5. The newly designed breast implant registry tracks only the rates of reoperation, not other complications or health problems of women with breast implants. In addition, the National Breast Implant Registry misses the thousands of women who need to have their implants removed, but are financially unable to do so. To provide useful information, the registry should include information about important, debilitating autoimmune and connective tissue disease symptoms associated with implants. Registries should include relevant medical information from physicians other than plastic surgeons. In addition, the data from the registry are not available to the public unless the plastic surgeons chose to publish information. To improve transparency and informed decision- making by physicians and patients, data from the registries should be made available for free to the FDA, independent researchers, and the public to be analyzed and published.

6. We strongly urge the FDA to require manufacturers to complete large, long-term studies that evaluate the serious symptoms that patients described at the FDA Advisory Committee meeting. Well-designed studies were required as a condition of approval more than a dozen years ago, but those studies were not properly completed, due to enormous loss to follow-up. The FDA should require such studies now, and this time the research requirements should be enforced and implants taken off the market if the studies are not completed as promised.

In summary, the lack of good data, the lack of informed consent, and the lack of unbiased information for women who have become seriously ill from their breast implants are major shortcomings that FDA can help to remedy. We would be glad to share our expertise with you. Please feel free to contact the leaders of our organizations for additional information: Ms. Karuna Jaggar, Dr. Susan Wood, Dr. Diana Zuckerman, Ms. Cynthia Pearson, and Ms. Judy Norsigian.

NCHR Comment on FDA’s 510(k) Third Party Review Program Draft Guidance

National Center for Health Research: December 13, 2018


Comment of the National Center for Health Research Regarding the
510(k) Third Party Review Program:
Draft Guidance for Industry, FDA Staff, and Third Party Review Organizations.
OMB Control Number 0910-0375

The National Center for Health Research (NCHR) is a non-profit organization which conducts original research to better inform policy makers, health professionals, and patients.   NCHR accepts no funding from any entity which manufactures or distributes medical products.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this draft guidance.  We note that this draft guidance applies to low-to-medium risk medical devices, which concerns us because many Class II devices are permanent implants that have the potential to cause permanent harm to patients.  In fact, our research indicates that even Class I devices have been subjected to high-risk recalls by the FDA due to the potential for causing death or permanent harm.1 2 3

We have several serious concerns about the draft guidance.  First, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) are accountable for the efficacy and safety of their medical devices.  FDA standards require that devices manufactured by OEM’s comply with relevant regulatory standards.  OEMs are required to track, monitor, and report product issues to FDA.  Overseeing the OEMs and their reporting are FDA’s responsibility to ensure patient safety.

Second, in the past FDA has had the opportunity to review the work of any third party reviewer, and reject it if deemed inadequate or shoddy.  In fact, the agency has often found problems with the third party reviews.  The proposed guidance would sharply reduce the agency’s oversight of third party reviews, which will clearly compromise safety.  Even if certified as qualified, third party review companies have an inherent conflict of interest: If their standards are too high, no device company will hire them and they will go out of business.  The system is similar to the EU regulation of medical devices, which has resulted in very harmful decisions, such as the clearance of the PIP breast implants that were found to use non-medical grade silicone.4  In addition, investigative reporters recently obtained CE clearance for a “surgical” mesh that was made out of a plastic mesh bag used for oranges.

Transparency is also a crucial factor.  Currently, third party review companies are not required to clearly label an OEM device indicating that a critical repair has been completed by someone other than the OEM.  Once that repair is made, the device is no longer the same device that was approved or cleared by FDA.  It is important that this chain of accountability is not broken or interrupted.

While we understand the desire of FDA officials to reduce medical device review times and reduce the burden on FDA staff and industry, the 510(k) program already is a quick way to get devices to market and the device industry has clearly benefitted from it.  The 510(k) pathway has been widely criticized by the Institute of Medicine, physicians, patients, and the media for its lack of clinical trials and lack of scientific evidence.5  Despite its weaknesses, the 510(k) pathway is considered superior to the EU regulatory system, however.  By reducing the “burden” for FDA staff and industry, the proposed guidance increases the burden on patients and doctors to figure out which devices are safe and which are not.  This would clearly put U.S. patients at greater risk.

FDA has not demonstrated that its proposed changes to the third party review pathway of Class I and Class II devices will benefit patients.  By definition, 510(k) devices only rarely are substantially superior to recent predicates.  Speeding up the process of clearance is not demonstrated to benefit patients.  Moreover, with registries, NEST, and other planned efforts to improve post-market surveillance still far from effectively implemented, any loosening of 510(k) regulations is very premature.

Finally, we note that Commissioner Gottlieb responded to recent media criticism of CDRH regulations by promising improvements to the 510(k) pathway to ensure patient safety.  The third party review program clearly moves in the opposite direction, reducing patient safety, rather than protecting patients from potentially harmful devices.   We strongly oppose it for that reason.

 

References

  1. Zuckerman, D.M., Brown, P, and Nissen, S.E.  (2011) Medical Device Recalls and the FDA Approval Process, Archives of Internal Medicine, 117, 1006-11.
  2. Zuckerman D.M., Brown P., Nissen S.E. (2011). In Reply, Archives of Internal Medicine, 171(11), 1045.
  3. Zuckerman D.M., Brown P., Nissen S.E. (2011). In Reply, Archives of Internal Medicine, 171(21), 1963.
  4. Zuckerman, D., Booker, N, and Nagda, S. (2012) Public Health Implications of Difference in US and European Union Regulatory Policies for Breast Implants, Reproductive Health Matters, 20 (40),102-111.
  5. Zuckerman D.M., Brown P. & Das A. (2014) Lack of Publicly Available Scientific Evidence on the Safety and Effectiveness of Implanted Medical Devices,  JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(11): 1781-1787.

 

Statement of Dr. Diana Zuckerman, President of the National Center for Health Research, Regarding the New Study of 100,000 Women with Breast Implants

Diana Zuckerman, PhD, National Center for Health Research: September 17, 2018.

In the largest study ever conducted of long-term health risks for patients with breast implants, researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have reported that women with silicone implants are more likely to be diagnosed with several rare diseases, autoimmune disorders, and other conditions.  These results are consistent with numerous previously published studies, but contradict the conclusions of studies funded by implant manufacturers or plastic surgery medical societies.

The study, published in the September issue of the medical journal Annals of Surgery, is by researchers in MD Anderson’s Department of Plastic Surgery and is based on analyses of almost 100,000 patients with either saline or silicone implants. The information was derived from the FDA’s database dating back to 2005.  When the FDA approved silicone gel breast implants made by two manufacturers in 2006, the agency required that each of the manufacturers study at least 40,000 women for 10 years.  Those studies were started but never completed, making it impossible to determine the long-term risks of breast implants.  In the absence of such crucial studies, patients report that they were not warned about the risks when they decided to get breast implants.

We thank Mark W. Clemens, M.D., associate professor, Plastic Surgery, the senior investigator of this very important study.  The findings are consistent with what thousands of women with breast implants have reported in Facebook groups and other social media, and directly challenge the FDA’s claims that breast implants do not cause such diseases.  We urge the FDA to be more patient-centered and finally require independent studies be conducted of women before and after their breast implants are removed.  Many women have reported that their debilitating autoimmune symptoms decreased or disappeared after their breast implants were removed, but scientific data is needed to establish the rate of recovery.

Statement of Dr. Diana Zuckerman, President, National Center for Health Research, Regarding the American Health Care Act

Diana Zuckerman, PhD, National Center for Health Research: March 9, 2017

The goal of the American Health Care Act is to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with something better, but instead it represents a giant step backward for health care for all Americans. This proposed plan will cover far fewer Americans than the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and insurance will pay for less and cost more. The proposed tax credits and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) will not begin to provide adequate health insurance for Americans covered under the ACA, particularly low-income patients.

A substantial number of people who had health insurance for the first time under ACA will lose it. The proposed 30% surcharge for those who let their insurance lapse is an insufficient incentive for healthy people to purchase insurance. Since the surcharge is the same for patients whose insurance lapses for 2 months or 20 years, it actually discourages healthy patients from buying health insurance until they have substantial medical expenses. The lack of healthy patients in the insurance pool means higher premiums and deductibles for all of us. And, as more uninsured patients end up in hospitals needing expensive medical care for cancer, heart disease, or other serious illnesses, that uncompensated care means higher hospital costs for all of us.

The very obvious shortcomings of the proposed TrumpCare bill are the reasons why hospital organizations, the American Medical Association (AMA), AARP, and many insurers are all against this legislation. It would disrupt the marketplace, create confusion and uncertainty, and reduce or strip health care coverage from millions of Americans.

Meanwhile, the bill would provide tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of those losing health coverage. The legislation also would serve to severely reduce Medicaid benefits over time, by eventually turning the Medicaid coverage now provided into block grants to states, many of which might spend the funds on issues other than health care.

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

Statement of Dr. Diana Zuckerman on FDA Approval of New Silicone-Gel Breast Implant Natrelle 410

Diana Zuckerman, PhD, National Center for Health Research: February 21, 2013

Yesterday the FDA quietly approved yet another questionable style of breast implants, the Natrelle 410 Highly Cohesive Anatomically Shaped Silicone-Gel Filled Breast Implant made by Allergan, Inc.

The FDA based its approval on data from 941 women, which is a very small sample. The FDA reports that the complications from these implants are similar to those for other breast implants: pain and hardness caused by scar tissue (capsular contracture), the need for additional operations to fix implant problems, the need to remove the breast implants because of problems, uneven appearance (asymmetry), and infection.  The studies also found cracks in the gel of some Natrelle 410 implants, which has not been found in other breast implants.

Unlike other breast implant approvals, the FDA did not hold a public Advisory Committee Meeting to discuss the data, nor did they make the study data public for these new breast implants.  What are they afraid of?  It seems likely that the FDA decided it was better to hide this information than to make it public at a meeting where implant patients could talk about the health problems that have been caused by these implants.

The silicone gel in the Natrelle 410 implant contains more cross-linking compared to the silicone gel used in Allergan’s previously approved Natrelle implant. This increased cross-linking results in a silicone gel that’s firmer. Cross-linking refers to the bonds that link one silicone chain to another. Some physicians believe this will make the implant last longer, but there is no evidence to support that because these implants have only been studied for 7 years.

The FDA admits that Allergan’s studies did not compare the safety and effectiveness of the Natrelle 410 implant to other previously approved silicone gel-filled breast implants on the market.

As a condition of approval for the Natrelle 410 breast implants, Allergan must:

  •  Continue to follow, for an additional five years, approximately 3,500 women who received the Natrelle 410 implants as part of the company’s continued access study;
  • Conduct a 10-year study of more than 2,000 women receiving Natrelle 410 silicone gel-filled implants post-approval to collect information on long-term local complications (e.g., capsular contracture, reoperation, removal of implant, implant rupture) and less common potential disease outcomes (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, breast and lung cancer, reproductive complications);
  • Conduct five case-control studies to evaluate whether women with Natrelle 410 implants, or other silicone gel-filled breast implants, are more likely to develop rare connective tissue disease, neurological disease, brain cancer, cervical/vulvar cancer and lymphoma;
  • Evaluate women’s perceptions of the patient labeling; and
  • Analyze the Natrelle 410 implants that are removed from patients and returned to the manufacturer.

Unfortunately, Allergan has not done a good job of doing post-market studies once their implants have been approved.  And, even if they do these studies, by the time these studies are done to find out what the risks are, hundreds of thousands of women could have these inadequately studied devices in their bodies, and could have been harmed by them.

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