Tag Archives: FDA

Study finds removing breast implants improved symptoms

Kris Pickel, AzFamily.com: October 1, 2020


PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A new study may be a game changer in the debate: Is breast implant illness real? Plastic surgeon Dr. Lu-Jean Fang designed the study involving 750 women with a diverse mix of breast implants, including silicone and saline, with shells that were either smooth or textured.

Every patient underwent a total capsulectomy. It’s a surgical procedure which removes the breast implant and all surrounding scar tissue, known as the capsules.

Prior to surgery to remove the implants, patients rated the severity of 11 symptoms commonly associated with breast implant illness, on a scale from 0 to 5.

Symptoms rated in study:

  • numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • joint and/or muscle pain
  • hair loss
  • memory loss/cognitive problems
  • dry eyes and/or blurred vision
  • chronic fatigue
  • breast pain
  • rashes and/or hives
  • food sensitivity/intolerance
  • flu-like symptoms and/or low-grade fever
  • difficulty breathing

Ten days after their implants were removed, the women rated their symptoms again and repeated the survey multiple times over the next year. The data was then analyzed by a team at Case Western University led by Dr. Corinne Wee and published in the Annals of Plastic Surgery.

After years of seeing her patients’ health improve following the removal of their breast implants, Dr. Feng says the results still came as a surprise. “I didn’t think it would be this good,” says Dr. Feng. When averaged out among the group, almost every symptom improved. Most symptoms drop to ratings considered ‘none’ or ‘mild’.

“For each one of these symptoms, there is a statistical difference so it’s not by chance anymore that they improve,” says Dr. Feng.

Researchers found health improvements happened quickly. If a woman saw improvements within the first ten days after surgery, the benefits were still present a year later. The most significant improvements happened in women who were obese or had some type of hardening of the scar tissue around the implant and who made lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and exercise.

Removal of saline and silicone implants resulted in similar levels of improvements. The study notes “silicone is actually present in the shells of many saline implants.”

During years of investigations, numerous women have shared first-hand accounts with CBS 5 Investigates, saying when doctors failed to diagnose the cause of their symptoms, they were led to believe their symptoms were psychosomatic or the result of aging.

Dr. Feng says her study debunks the theory that breast implant illness is something women are imagining. “It is not in their heads,” says Dr. Feng. “This is my life’s work mainly because it’s such a simple solution. You take out the implant and all the surrounding scar tissue that houses the inflammatory reaction and the implant derived material, and the patient gets better.”

DIFFERENT THAN PREVIOUS STUDIES

For breast implants illness advocates, Dr. Feng’s study provides scientific evidence to back up claims made by tens of thousands of women.

Dr. Diana Zuckerman is President of the National Center for Health Research in Washington DC. An expert on national health policy, Dr. Zuckerman has worked for decades to get stronger warnings on the risks of breast implants. “This study absolutely confirms that there are women getting sick from their breast implants, and when their implants are taken out, they get well,” says Dr. Zuckerman.

In analyzing decades of previous studies, Dr. Zuckerman says major studies sponsored or conducted by breast implant manufacturers have a created a misleading perception surrounding the safety of implants.

Dr. Zuckerman says these studies have flaws, with the results often misrepresented. In some cases, she says, women were kicked out of studies if they got sick. She also points out it can take sometimes a decade or longer for symptoms to develop, which means studies end before some women start to experience problems.

As an example, Dr. Zuckerman cites the 10 year post-approval study by breast implant manufacturer Mentor on its MemoryGel CPG Breast Implants.

She says seven years into the study, 80% percent of the 41,000 women were no longer participating in the study.

Mentor provided CBS 5 Investigates with final data from its post-approval study showing that of  the 41,452 women enrolled in the study only 6,063 completed the study.

[…]

FDA RECOMMENDS NEW WARNINGS FOR BREAST IMPLANTS

On September 29, 2020 the FDA took their strongest steps to date to increase awareness on the risks of breast implants.

The agency is recommending labeling for breast implants include a box warning, the strongest warning by the FDA that a product carries the risk of serious injury or death.

While the FDA did not mandate manufactures include the warning, they recommended the following information be included: breast implants are not lifetime devices; are associated with the cancer of the immune system BIA-ALCL; patients have died from BIA-ALCL; patients have reported systemic symptoms such as joint pain, muscle aches, confusion, chronic fatigue, auto immune disease; and that some patients recover from the symptoms after implants are removed.

The recommendations are carefully worded to acknowledge recovery from systemic symptoms may happen after implants are removed. However, the FDA stopped short of saying the implants cause the symptoms.

The FDA is also recommending a checklist for women to be given when considering breast implants.  The checklist would outline when implants should not be used; risks of implant surgery, cancer, systemic symptoms, rupture and complications; updated screening and follow up tests, implants are not lifetime devices and alternatives to implants.

The FDA says the labeling recommendations are intended to enhance but not replace discussions between patients and their physicians.

[….]

CDC SHUTS DOWN INSURANCE COVERAGE EFFORTS

Efforts to make breast implant illness an official diagnosis covered by insurance came to a sudden stop earlier this year.

Dr. Zuckerman was among the advocates invited to speak at the CDC’s March meeting on ICD-10 codes. The codes are used to diagnose medial conditions and show insurance companies why treatment is necessary. Without the codes, insurance companies will not cover the cost of treatment.

Dr. Zuckerman planned to attend the meeting and built a presentation. She says without explanation, she was notified the agency would not be exploring the option of ICD-10 codes for breast implant illness. “I was not given a reason why, other than it was considered too controversial,” says Dr. Zuckerman.

After months of requests to the CDC asking for an explanation as to why the topic was dropped from their agenda, the agency sent an email to CBS 5 Investigates stating, “There is no definitive evidence that breast implant cause the systemic symptoms.”

The agency also provided a list of ICD-10 codes providers can use for treatment and billing covering conditions ranging from breast deformity to atrophy.

However, the current ICD codes do not cover the symptoms commonly associated with breast implant illness such as fatigue, rash, joint pain and cognitive issues.

Efforts have not stopped to get ICD-10 codes for breast implant illness. Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut sent a letter to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield asking for clarification on why the topic was dropped.

Their letter references a growing body of research that thousands of women have been seriously harmed by breast implants and that “women continue to be denied health insurance coverage for medically necessary implant removal.”

Representatives Dogget and DeLauro point out women who elected to undergo breast implant surgery were “unaware of the potentially serious risks.”

[….]

The agency also provided a list of ICD-10 codes providers can use for treatment and billing covering conditions ranging from breast deformity to atrophy.

However, the current ICD codes do not cover the symptoms commonly associated with breast implant illness such as fatigue, rash, joint pain and cognitive issues.

Efforts have not stopped to get ICD-10 codes for breast implant illness. Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut sent a letter to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield asking for clarification on why the topic was dropped.

Their letter references a growing body of research that thousands of women have been seriously harmed by breast implants and that “women continue to be denied health insurance coverage for medically necessary implant removal.”

Representatives Dogget and DeLauro point out women who elected to undergo breast implant surgery were “unaware of the potentially serious risks.”

Read the full article here

FDA Updates Breast Implant Labeling Recommendations to Help Inform Patients About Dangerous Potential Side Effects

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.”

Guidance details

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.”

Read the full article here

Women with Breast Implants Should Not Need to Wait for Safety Information They Urgently Need

Rose Weitz and Diana Zuckerman, Our Bodies Ourselves: July 1, 2020


Although breast implants have been sold since the 1960s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the use of silicone gel breast implants in 2006. By then, many women with implants had already reported a range of problems, which result in many women seeking additional surgery within just a few years of implantation.

And the problems have become more serious. Last year, for example, Allergan did a worldwide recall of their textured Biocell breast implants and expanders because of evidence that these implants caused an increased risk of a type of lymphoma called ALCL.

The FDA has the authority both to require solid evidence of safety before putting any implant on the market and to require companies to collect health data from implant patients for years afterward. Without these data, it is impossible for women or their doctors to know what are the possible consequences of different implants, what symptoms to look for, and which implants should be surgically removed – assuming an individual knows the make and model of their implant and can afford up to several thousand dollars to remove it.

Collecting data is a small thing to ask of manufacturers who have been profiting from breast implants for many years. Yet even this has proven too much for these companies, or for the FDA to enforce. For example, in May 2019 the FDA sent letters to two manufacturers, Mentor Worldwide and Sientra, warning that the manufacturers had failed to collect the required data for implants that were already on the market and would need to improve their data gathering or face potential criminal or civil penalties. The FDA also sent warning letters in May 2020 to Allergan and Ideal. The FDA criticized Allergan for their failure to recruit and follow-up with as many patients as had been promised. The agency warned Ideal that the companies’ efforts to rectify previous problems were inadequate, including failing to accurately report consumer complaints, failing to keep adulterants out of its silicone, and failing to notify the FDA about malfunctions of its implants that could result in death or serious injury. Meanwhile, all these implants are still on the market.

Last October, in response to the pleas and demands of thousands of breast implant patients, the FDA proposed that a black box warning be affixed to all implant packages to inform women and their doctors about the most serious risks of breast implants. In addition, the FDA proposed that all patients be required to sign an easy-to-understand checklist of possible risks before implant surgery is scheduled.

These proposals were much weaker than what patients and their advocates had demanded. In response to the FDA’s request for public comments, a Working Group of patients, public health advocates, and plastic surgeons submitted a critique — along with a petition signed by over 70,000 people – urging the FDA to be more explicit about the proposed warnings. Public comments were due in December 2019, but as of June 2020 the agency has still not revised its proposal.

Buyer beware, indeed.

Read the full article here

CRS: Congress Can Rein in FDA’s Flexible Covid-19 Vaccine Trial Policies

Beth Wang, Inside Health Policy: June 03, 2020


The Congressional Research Service says Congress could rein in FDA’s broad discretionary authority over vaccine clinical trial policies by legislating how the agency and Institutional Review Boards approach clinical trial designs and reviews for the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as for future emergencies. In a Tuesday (June 2) report, CRS suggests Congress could provide more specific direction to FDA and IRBs on how to approach clinical trials in emergency situations, and also could appoint a neutral scientific body to consider ethical and scientific issues as well as general guidelines for trials. Congress also could fund global collaboration among regulators, and provide additional funding and resources to facilitate clinical trials, the report suggests, echoing recent calls from lawmakers who have said the United States should get involved with global efforts to fund and develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, applauded CRS for explaining the vaccine approval process to Congress and for telling lawmakers what their options are so Congress can, in Zuckerman’s words, “ensure a better outcome than we’ve seen with the disastrous coronavirus testing situation (in terms of accuracy, transparency, and availability).” The document, she told Inside Health Policy, does a good job of explaining that FDA has authority to lower approval standards for any drug or vaccine unless Congress steps in. “[B]ased on FDA’s actions of the last 3 months, it seems likely that they will do so in ways that could create the free-for-all that currently exists for coronavirus testing,” Zuckerman wrote in an email. “So the CRS is telling Congress that legislation is the option they have if they want to ensure a better outcome.”

Existing law, CRS says, requires FDA and IRBs to weigh considerations about safety and effectiveness against the desire to bring products to market quickly when evaluating proposed clinical trial designs for vaccines.

[…]

Congress previously told FDA what to do in the drug trial and approval space through passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, but FDA was given leeway in how to interpret the law, Zuckerman explained. “It pushed FDA in a particular direction but still gave the FDA the authority to rely on the agency’s subjective judgment,” she said. If Congress were to step in and tell FDA what it should do, it would be a radical departure, Zuckerman added. “[But it’s] probably necessary given FDA’s response to the pandemic so far, and the Administration’s track record of ignoring Congress when it suits them,” she said.

Read the entire article here.

Allergan is trying to track down women with breast implants it recalled nearly a year ago

Maria Aspan, Fortune: June 03, 2020


More than 10 months after recalling some of its breast implants, Allergan is making a new effort to find tens of thousands of women who still have the dangerous devices.

The pharmaceutical company, now owned by AbbViesaid this week that it will launch a digital and social media ad campaign to alert patients about the July 2019 recall of its textured Biocell implants. Those implants have been linked in academic studies to a sometimes-fatal cancer known as BIA-ALCL, for “breast implant–associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma.” More than 33 women have now died from BIA-ALCL.

Allergan’s announcement comes two weeks after Fortune published an investigation into the persistent problems with breast implants and the health risks, including BIA-ALCL, they have created for millions of women worldwide. These risks have been amplified by decades of inadequate study and problems that were hidden by breast implant manufacturers, as well as the generally poor tracking of medical devices, our investigation found.

Many women affected by Allergan’s Biocell recall told Fortune that they found out about it through social media or news reports, rather than directly from the company or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which requested the recall.

On Monday, Allergan acknowledged that it does not have device-tracking information for some 52,000 Biocell breast implants. Despite “robust efforts” to reach patients since last July, “the company is still seeking to directly contact all U.S. Biocell patients that have not yet been notified,” Allergan said in a press release.

“We are continuing to make every effort to make sure that each and every patient is made aware of the Biocell recall, and knows their implant type and implant history,” John Maltman, Allergan’s vice president of medical affairs, said in the release.

A company spokesperson did not respond to a request for more specifics about when the ad campaign would launch, or what exactly it would entail. And longtime critics of breast implant safety greeted Allergan’s announced plans with skepticism.

“I don’t know how visible it’s going to be,” says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research. “Will the kind of money and effort be put into this in a way that’s comparable to ad campaigns when they’re selling something?

The new ad campaign appears to be at the behest of the FDA, which “asked Allergan to develop a strategy to contact patients who may not have heard about the recall,” an agency spokesperson told Fortune by email on Tuesday, adding that the FDA “is working with Allergan to amplify the message and outreach related to its July 2019 voluntary recall of certain breast implants.”

This is the latest of several actions the FDA has taken on breast implant safety in the wake of Fortune’s investigation. Last month, after speaking with Fortune, the FDA sent a warning letter to Allergan over its longtime failure to comply with regulatory requirements for selling its implants. At the same time, the agency also sent a letter to a smaller manufacturer warning about manufacturing and quality-control issues.

[…]

Read the full article here.

FDA Warns Allergan Over Breast Implant Studies

Sasha Chavkin, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: May 19, 2020


United States health authorities issued a warning letter to leading global breast implant manufacturer Allergan for failing to properly carry out post-market safety studies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that Allergan did not meet its standards for recruiting and following up with participants in studies that included several styles of implants withdrawn from sale worldwide last year due to cancer risks.

Another company, Ideal Implant Incorporated, was rebuked for failing to properly track complaints by customers or take adequate corrective actions for problems identified during a site inspection.

“The FDA will continue to hold manufacturers accountable if they fail to fulfill their obligations,” Dr. Binita Ashar of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health said in an agency statement announcing the warning letters.

In November 2018, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that thousands of women around the world were suffering from serious illnesses after receiving breast implants, a finding that was part of its global Implant Files investigation.

In the months after the Implant Files’ publication, regulators around the world took action to better protect patients. Authorities in France, Canada, and the United States announced bans on Allergan Biocell implants, which were associated with increased risk of a rare form of cancer.

The moves prompted Allergan to announce a global recall of Biocell products last July. (Earlier this month, Allergan was acquired by global pharmaceutical giant AbbVie.)

The recalled implants are among the ones that Allergan was failing to properly study, the FDA found. The agency noted that the studies were crucial to identifying the risks for patients already implanted with Biocells.

“Post-approval studies are especially important to inform our understanding of the long-term potential risks associated with Allergan’s implants, including the models that have since been recalled from the market,” Ashar said in the FDA’s statement.

The agency touted the warning letters as a part of its “ongoing efforts” to better protect breast implant patients, also citing its Medical Device Safety Action Plan and the development of a National Breast Implant Registry to collect data on breast implant safety.

But Dr. Diana Zuckerman, the director of the National Center for Health Research, a health policy think tank, said the agency must also be willing to take tough measures against companies that fail to follow its rules.

Zuckerman noted that breast implant makers have a history of poor compliance with safety studies mandated by the FDA, which approved silicone breast implants for the U.S. market in 2006 despite scant data on their long-term safety.

Instead, the agency allowed manufacturers Allergan and Mentor to conduct long-term safety studies after their products were already on the market. Within three years, Allergan and Mentor lost touch with 40% and 80% of the patients, respectively, in key sections of these post-approval studies, torpedoing the FDA’s demand that they collect reliable long-term data.

Nonetheless, the agency permitted the implants to remain on the market.

Zuckerman was skeptical that the warning letters would have much effect unless the FDA showed it was willing to take products that violated its rules for safety studies off the market.

“It absolutely should be possible to take off the ones that aren’t studied properly,” Zuckerman said. “I guarantee if they did that the ones that are still on the market would finish their studies.”

Read the full article here

‘They killed her’: Why are breast implants still putting millions of women at risk?

Maria Aspan, Fortune: May 18, 2020


Thirty-three years before her death, Paulette Parr visited her doctor for a popular and relatively routine procedure. It was 1986, and Parr was 35, working in human resources at the local hospital in Sikeston, a 16,000-person Missouri enclave midway between St. Louis and Memphis. A married mother of two young boys, she was interested in what plastic surgeons still call a “mommy makeover,” a catchall for the various procedures that nip, tuck, and lift women back to a pre-childbirth shape. For Parr, that meant getting her first set of breast implants.

For the next 15 years, through losing her first husband and remarrying and getting promoted to her hospital’s purchasing department, Parr was mostly happy with her implants, and with how they made her look and feel. But they were silicone-based, a type the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned in 1992 over concerns that they were causing autoimmune and safety problems, and Parr eventually started to worry about them. So by 2002, when she learned that one of her implants had ruptured and was leaking silicone into her body, Parr’s surgeon replaced them with saline-filled versions. Her new Biocell implants were covered in a roughly textured silicone shell, designed to reduce movement of the device.

That’s when Parr’s implant-related health problems really began, according to a lawsuit her husband has filed against pharmaceutical company Allergan, the maker of Biocell products and one of three major manufacturers of American breast implants. In 2010, after one of her saline implants started leaking, her plastic surgeon replaced them with yet another set of Biocell textured implants, this time filled with silicone, which the FDA had allowed back onto the market in 2006.

“They were gorgeous, and they were put in by a reputable doctor,” says Paulette’s widower, Calvin Parr, months after her death. “We never gave it a second thought.”

Breast implants have long been a punch line, mocked as frivolous markers of female vanity. But that dismissive attitude overlooks a business with a serious and sometimes deadly impact on the health of its overwhelmingly female customer base. More than 8 million American women have undergone breast-related plastic surgeries since 2000; in 2018 alone, more than 400,000 women chose one for either cosmetic or reconstructive reasons. Breast augmentation is the most popular cosmetic procedure tracked by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Many women, especially those affected by breast cancer, say they are grateful to have implants as an option. “It’s a decision that’s personal,” says Lynn Jeffers, the society’s current president, a plastic surgeon, and a cancer survivor who’s getting post-mastectomy reconstruction. “With the data that I have now, I’m comfortable having implants.”

And pharmaceutical companies have been very comfortable selling them, despite a long history of government recalls and product-liability lawsuits. Allergan, which was acquired by AbbVie in May, sold $399.5 million worth of implants in 2017, before regulators around the globe started banning some of its products. Its main rival, Johnson & Johnson, doesn’t break out results for its Mentor Worldwide breast implant business. Smaller specialist Sientra reported annual “breast products” revenues of $46.4 million in 2019.

Those numbers pale in comparison to blockbusters like Allergan bestseller Botox, which raked in $3.8 billion last year. But like Botox, breast implants can have attractive recurring revenue built in for manufacturers and the doctors who use their products. Even under ideal circumstances, breast implants “are not lifetime devices,” the FDA warns, and will likely need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years, for a cost of up to $12,000 per cosmetic procedure.

Yet as doctors, patients, lawyers, and public health experts tell Fortune, breast implants have remained on the market despite decades of inadequate testing and study, recurrent safety concerns, and poor regulatory oversight. Those problems plague many medical devices, which range from machines used outside the body to artificial parts implanted within it. But breast implants are unique in their affiliation with female sexuality and physical appearance, their intersecting roles as elective beauty products and clinical tools that can help cancer survivors feel more like themselves—and the degree to which patients’ mounting concerns about them have been dismissed for decades. Now, that accumulated failure of oversight has created sweeping, sometimes tragic crises for potentially millions of women.

“There are a lot of women who are really suffering,” says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research. “You have these products that are widely, widely sold, and every few years we learn something new about the problems they cause.”

Breast implant makers walk a particularly fine line when it comes to creating a product that is both safe and “realistic.” Today’s implants are either filled with saline (more likely to break) or silicone (more natural looking and feeling but plagued by a history of safety concerns). Their exteriors can be either smooth or made of a “textured” silicone shell. Smooth implants are more popular in the U.S., but surgeons working with mastectomy patients sometimes prefer textured versions, because the products’ rougher surface enables tissue to grow onto the implant more easily.

All of these variations are prone to malfunctions or side effects, which can include ruptured implants; a buildup of scar tissue that can cause pain and tissue hardening; a large collection of symptoms often known as “breast implant illness,” which can include joint pain, migraines, and chronic fatigue; and, increasingly, a sometimes fatal cancer of the immune system known as ­BIA-ALCL, for “breast implant–­associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma.”

“The breast implants that are on the market right now all have issues,” says Madris Tomes, a former FDA manager who tracks reported medical device failures at her Device Events firm. “I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone that I care about.”

The causes of the various problems with breast implants are still poorly understood, which public health experts blame on a lack of testing or objective, long-term studies that do not rely on manufacturer-provided data or funding. Device makers also have yet to fully report the data the FDA required as a condition of allowing silicone implants back on the market in 2006.

[…]

Read the full article here

FDA considers black box warning for all breast implants

Mariel Carbone, WCPO Cincinnati: February 09, 2020


Although many other survivors choose implants after their mastectomies, [Lily McBreen is] adamant that she won’t. Having almost lost her life once, she’s worried the side effects of receiving breast implants could endanger it again.

[…]

“I wanted to avoid the rheumatological symptoms that have been out in the news for so many decades,” she said. “There has been so many accounts of women complaining of problems with them.”

Those symptoms, which women are calling “breast implant illness,” are among the many reasons the United States Food and Drug Administration could soon take extreme measures when it comes to educating the public about implants.

[…]

Currently, the black box warning exists only as a draft while the FDA continues to consider its implementation.

The draft warning outlines three main concerns.

First, “breast implants are not considered life time devices” and women may require more surgery if complications occur.

It also states that implants have been associated with BIA-ALCL.

[…]

Finally, it describes how some patients have reported a variety of symptoms, including “joint paint, muscle aches, confusion, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease and others.”

The FDA is also proposing a patient decision checklist, which would include situations in which the device should not be used, considerations for a successful breast implant candidate, risks of surgery, the importance of using an appropriate physician, the risk of BIA-ALCL and other symptoms and discussion of other options.

Still, some have said these proposals don’t go far enough, including Diana Zuckerman who is President of the National Center for Health Research. The center initiated the Breast Implant Working Group, which is made up of six experts including patient advocates and plastic surgeons.

“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,” the working group said in a statement. “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.”

Read the original story here.

No Shortage of Controversies for New FDA Commissioner

Thomas M. Burton, The Wall Street Journal: January 29, 2020


New Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen M. Hahn rises at 4 a.m. each day for an hour of intensive strength and stamina training. On stressful days, he fits a second workout in during the late afternoon.

Dr. Hahn, 60, takes over an FDA under fire for failing to adequately respond to the health threat from growing use of e-cigarettes and vaping products. This spring, he and the agency will face applications from e-cigarette companies and have to decide what e-cigarette products can qualify to stay on the market.

[…]

Dr. Hahn also faces thorny decisions on stem-cell research and use of cannabidiol, or CBD, that will likely put him in the hot seat between rival advocacy groups.

The man taking on these challenges comes to the FDA with a sterling reputation in medicine and management, but with no previous government experience, unlike his predecessor Scott Gottlieb. That has some concerned about his ability to tackle the issues ahead.

“Always we have concerns when someone comes in who doesn’t know the FDA, which is a complex organization,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the public-interest research group National Center for Health Research in Washington.  “I never think it’s a good idea.”

What’s more, Dr. Hahn may not have long to make his mark if Mr. Trump fails to win re-election Nov. 3. “It’s a hard thing to come in with so little time [in the president’s term] and so little government experience,” said a former FDA commissioner, Robert Califf, who served under President Obama. “It’s so difficult to change policy with so little time.”

Dr. Hahn didn’t immediately comment for this article.

[…]

Read the original story here.

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