Marc Kaufman, Washington Post: September 22, 2002
Jennifer Moore had been “very, very conscious” of her bust size for years, and this summer the 24-year-old decided to do something about it. It cost her $6,000 and a few days of pain and swelling, but the woman who was a 32A is now a 34C, thanks to her new breast implants.
“I just love how it looks, and my boyfriend really does, too,” said Moore, a sales clerk from Frederick. “My mom said that if she was my age again, she’d do it, too.”
The number of women electing to have their breasts enlarged through implant surgery is increasing rapidly. A record 220,000 American women chose to undergo breast augmentation last year, and the industry projects an almost 10 percent increase this year.
That is twice the number of women who were getting cosmetic breast implants a decade ago, before the Food and Drug Administration strictly limited use of the most popular type of implant — the kind filled with silicone gel — after reports that it might cause debilitating illnesses.
At first slowly, and now quite eagerly, many American women have turned to the saltwater-filled alternative to silicone implants. The two breast implant manufacturers in the United States recently reported record sales and profits for their spring quarters, and cosmetic plastic surgeons say the operation has reached a level of social acceptance unimaginable not many years ago. And not only are more women choosing implants, but they are choosing ever-larger models — from an average of 250 cubic centimeters in the 1980s to about 350 cubic centimeters today.
Even concerns about silicone implants have eased significantly, and one manufacturer is expected to ask the FDA later this year to approve them for general use once more.
But some public health advocates and physicians remain alarmed about implants of all types — especially now, with their resurgent popularity. Additional research, they say, has confirmed that planting a device in a woman’s breast can cause serious, predictable and often costly complications, and they say the FDA is not providing American women the information and protection they need.
The most recent data presented to the FDA showed, for instance, that almost one-quarter of all cosmetic saline, or saltwater-filled, breast implants will need to be followed by another operation within five years, and that few implants can be expected to last more than 10 years. Studies have also found significant levels of internal infection, hardening of the tissue around the implanted device and implant leakage and deflation.
“This is a cosmetic operation with serious health consequences, and the FDA is just not treating it with the seriousness it requires,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families and a longtime critic of the breast implant industry. “The benefits are so small compared to the very real risks, so it should be getting more scrutiny, not less.”
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© 2002 The Washington Post Company