Critics Beg to Differ
But Diana Zuckerman, PhD, says most of those studies were badly flawed because they included women with new breast implants and follow-up was short. Zuckerman is president of the National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families.
"About half of the women in these studies had their implants for five years or less, and some studies included women who had had their implants for as little as a month," she says. "Someone diagnosed with an autoimmune disease a month after having a breast implant probably already had it."
She cites a 2001 FDA-funded study, which compared women whose silicone gel breast implants ruptured with those who implants remained intact at least six years following surgery. There was a significant increase in fibromyalgia, but not lupus, among the women with leaking implants. Two studies published in 2001 by the National Cancer Institute found a doubling in brain cancer deaths, a tripling in lung cancer, and a quadrupling in suicides in women with breast implants.
"It is certainly not true that there is no evidence linking breast implants and disease," Zuckerman says. "I am not saying the FDA and NCI studies are definitive. But when you have a doubling or tripling in deaths in a relatively young population it shouldn't be ignored."
Zuckerman and Young agree on one thing. Women considering breast implants need to learn all they can about their choices and the potential risks and benefits associated with them. Young says silicone is usually the best choice for very thin women with little breast tissue and women who have had mastectomies, while saline may be preferable for those with more breast tissue. A new type of silicone implant that is more solid than liquid minimizes the risk of leakage, but may be too firm for some women.
"When women lie down their breasts tend to look the same as when they are standing up," he says. "A lot of women don't like that."