Beth Fand Incollingo, Cure: September 29, 2020
Makers of breast implants should supplement their labeling to include a boxed warning about health problems that can arise from the devices, along with a patient decision checklist that highlights those concerns, according to final guidance issued today by the Food and Drug Administration.
The guidance, titled “Breast Implants – Certain Labeling Recommendations to Improve Patient Communication,” recommends, but does not mandate, that manufacturers include information about two major health issues that can arise from implant use: breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) and breast implant illness (BII), an autoimmune condition that can result in brain fog, fatigue, rash, and muscle or joint pain. A draft of the document was issued in 2019.
Roxane Vermeland, a breast cancer survivor who was treated for BIA-ALCL after receiving implants as part of breast reconstruction after mastectomy, was pleased to hear about the FDA’s decision.
“This is great news,” she said in a statement to CURE®. “We have been advocating hard for this, as women need to know the risks of implants up front so they can make an informed decision. The black-box warning alone is a major accomplishment for us which will truly make women think about the decision to put implants into their bodies. I am in tears as I write this.”
According to the guidance, the boxed warning should state that breast implants are not considered lifetime devices; the chance of developing complications increases over time; some complications will require more surgery; implants, particularly textured ones, have been associated with the development of BIA-ALCL; and implants have been associated with systemic symptoms. The checklist should note situations in which the device should not be used; considerations for a successful breast implant candidate; risks associated with surgery and BIA-ALCL; the importance of appropriate physician education, training and experience; the risk of BII; and should suggest discussion of options other than breast implants, the guidance states.
The guidance also suggests updates to the silicone gel-filled breast implant rupture screening recommendations, stating when MRIs should be conducted; inclusion of an easy-to-find description of the materials used to make the implants; and provision of patient device cards that will inform patients about what kind of implants they have, state a serial or lot number for the specific devices and include a toll-free phone number for the manufacturer.
The labeling recommendations are intended to enhance, but not replace, discussions between doctors and patients about the benefits and risks of breast implants, the FDA wrote in a press release.
Finally, the FDA has updated its guidance titled “Saline, Silicone Gel, and Alternative Breast Implants” to make it consistent with the new labeling recommendations. The FDA stated that it will continue to work with professional medical societies, patient advocacy groups and women’s health organizations to help ensure that risk information about breast implants is disseminated to patients.
“As new information has become available about the risks and complications of breast implants, it is critical that women have access to information they need to make informed decisions,” Dr. Binita Ashar, director of the Office of Surgical and Infection Control Devices in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in the release. “After working with stakeholders, including patients, today we are recommending format and content changes to breast implant labeling so the information is presented in an easy-to-understand way. It is important that patients discuss the risks and benefits of breast implants with their health care provider, and we hope that these labeling recommendations will help in facilitating these discussions.”
Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research and its Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund, also had a concern, pointing out that guidance from the FDA usually consists of recommendations that are not enforceable.
“That’s a big question for us,” she said in an interview with CURE®. “Because we know from experience that, if it’s a suggestion, there are just a lot of doctors who aren’t going to follow through. We think this needs to be required, and we will be working with the plastic surgeons’ medical societies to try to ensure that they urge their members in the strongest possible terms to use this checklist, either the FDA’s version of it or our version, which we think is better.”
An ongoing issue
The FDA also acted on testimony given at the March panel when it requested in July that Allergan, which was since purchased by AbbVie, issue a worldwide recall of any of its Natrelle Biocell textured implants and tissue expanders that remained on shelves. That’s because textured implants, particularly the Natrelle Biocell product line filled with either saline or silicone, have been linked with BIA-ALCL. As of Jan. 5, the cancer had been diagnosed in 733 patients and killed 36, the FDA reported Aug. 20.
“Although the overall incidence of BIA-ALCL appears to be relatively low, once the evidence indicated that a specific manufacturer’s product appeared to be directly linked to significant patient harm, including death, the FDA took action to alert the firm to new evidence indicating a recall is warranted to protect women’s health,” Dr. Amy Abernethy, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, said in July.
First identified about 20 years ago, BIA-ALCL is a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that arises specifically in women with implants. The FDA first warned women about BIA-ALCL in 2011.
Breast implant illness, meanwhile, seems to occur more often in women who have a personal or family history of autoimmune conditions, experts said, suggesting that more research is needed and that these women should be warned before getting implants. One expert at the 2019 hearing said that this group should opt against implants.
Jennifer Cook of Georgia, who received a diagnosis of BIA-ALCL in 2017, told the 2019 FDA panel that she received her implants as part of a clinical trial and signed a consent form stating that there was no established scientific evidence linking them with cancer. Over many years, she said, no one informed her that a risk had been established, and she found out only by watching a play on the topic at the middle school where she taught.
“I was shocked and thought I would need to reprimand the students for making false statements, and then I learned the horrifying truth,” Cook said. “Shortly thereafter, I recognized that I had symptoms. I was blindsided. I was deceived, and I don’t want anyone else to go through that.”
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