Tag Archives: breast implant illness

My breast implants are making me sick — and I’m not alone

Pamela Appea, Salon: June 20, 2021


In November 2016, a few weeks after I had breast implant surgery, I came down with an unexpected case of thrush (an unappealing fungal infection characterized by a thick white coating on my tongue). As a Black married mother of two, even though I was still sick, I tried — but failed — to power through and take care of my kids. With intense flu-like aches, pain, and fever, it hurt to eat, drink, swallow, or even open my mouth. I couldn’t properly brush my teeth for several days.

Unfortunately, my primary care physician was on vacation. Panicked, I called the Manhattan oncologist whom I had seen a few weeks earlier. He’d been very kind to me following my DCIS breast cancer diagnosis, unilateral mastectomy and post-surgical treatment. The officer’s medical team could barely understand me when I tried to make the appointment on the phone.

“I don’t think you have thrush — didn’t I just see you a few weeks ago?” he said, trying to put me at ease as I stared at his cheerful neon tie. (I think he prided himself on his fun ties.)

It was torture opening my mouth so the doctor could diagnose me.

“Okay, that’s the worst case of thrush I’ve seen in some time,” the seasoned specialist said. He said he was putting me on antibiotics stat. I asked — or rather, wrote on a notepad, since I couldn’t speak clearly — if there could be any connection between the my immune system and the very new breast implant that was now in my body. The oncologist emphatically dismissed the notion as impossible.

Once he got the results of my lab work back, my physician said there was no evidence of anything wrong; I should bounce back in a few days. “These things sometimes happen,” he told me, smiling as he ushered me out.

While the antibiotics eventually cleared up the thrush, unfortunately I have never fully bounced back. In subsequent years since my breast implants were put in, it became even more clear that something was going on with my immune system. But none of my doctors really listened.

Although it was not formerly recognized by the medical community until recently, Breast Implant Illness (BII) has, in the past few years, finally received attention from both media and researchers. Nicole Daruda founded a Facebook’s support group, called Breast Implant Illness Healing by Nicole, in 2013; now, it boasts over 145,000 members. Daruda tentatively estimates that 50,000 women in the US have BII, although precise research-backed numbers are not readily available

“We are overwhelmed by women trying to join the Facebook group to be educated about Breast Implant Illness,” Daruda said. She estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 women message the group’s moderators every month. To try to meet the demand, Daruda later founded a nonprofit, Healing Breast Implant Illness Society of North America.

Research is just barely starting to emerge on BII. One study, published in Annals of Plastic Surgery in 2020, followed 750 women suffering from Breast Implant Illness over a multi-year time period. Once these women surgically removed their breast implants, the vast majority reported the majority of their symptoms had significantly improved or disappeared entirely.

Awareness appears to be growing, too. A wave of celebrities are talking more openly about breast implants and their health and wellness — including Victoria Beckham, Ayesha Curry, Ashley Tisdale, Chrissy Teigen and others.

A documentary that touches on the subject of BII, “Explant,” is screening right now at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows Michelle Visage, one of the celebrity judges on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Visage, a media personality, singer, DJ and actor who was well known for her signature Double-D breasts, found that doctors didn’t take her seriously when she told the specialists her immune system was out of whack. Visage experienced chronic health issues, including Hashimoto’s disease, that she now attributes to her breast implants.

Awareness of BII is crucial given the popularity of breast implants. Since 1998, the number of breast augmentation procedures in the US has increased threefold; now, they are one of the most sought-out cosmetic procedures.

The desire for breast augmentation seems so powerful regardless of what else is going on in the world,” said Dr. Diana Zuckerman, founder of the National Center for Health Research. “What most concerns me is how reluctant most plastic surgeons have been to make sure their patients know the risks before making a decision.”

Because breast implant technology has existed for decades, many women erroneously believe they are safe.

[….]

In the years after my implant, some of my symptoms mirrored women on support groups I found online, which is how I figured out I had Breast Implant Illness. While symptoms sometimes waxed and waned, I got used to experiencing a host of autoimmune and other symptoms like insomnia, brain fog, extreme breathlessness, cuts that took weeks to heal, rashes, frequent colds and much more.

But BII is no longer regarded as a myth. Many or even most doctors, including plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Youn, believe Breast Implant Illness is real. Dr. Youn acknowledges it is a controversial topic among many of his fellow American plastic surgeons.

“If you’re happy with your breast implants and you don’t believe they are adversely affecting your health, then there is no need for treatment. If you are sick and believe your implants may be the cause, speak with your primary care physician and a board-certified plastic surgeon about whether explantation may be a possible solution for you,” Dr Youn said. “There are many causes of the symptoms of Breast Implant Illness (BII) that don’t involve breast implants, so it’s often best to rule those out first,” he continued.

In his 17 years of practice in the metro Detroit region, Dr. Youn, a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and The Aesthetic Society, has performed surgery on thousands of women who elected to get breast implants. Anecdotally, he estimates the number patients who later returned to his practice stating they had Breast Implant Illness symptoms is an extremely small percentage.

[….]

Though not all women with breast implants go on to develop Breast Implant Illness, all women deserve education, informed consent, insurance coverage and most important information about potential risks. If, in 2015, there had been an FDA Breast Implant Black Box Warning (which was officially unveiled in late 2020), I honestly never would have gotten breast implants in the first place.

To read the entire article, click here.

Patients Continue to Be Inadequately Informed of Risk for Breast Implant-Associated ALCL

Christina Bennet, MS, Cancer Therapy Advisor: February 8, 2021


Although the risk for breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) has been well-documented, patients considering breast implants continue to be inadequately informed of the propensity for disease development. Awareness of BIA-ALCL has risen since 2020, but adequate safeguards have not yet been put in place, according to experts in the field.

“There have been efforts made [to ensure patients are informed], but they have not been successful,” Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the National Center for Health Research (NCHR), said in an interview with Cancer Therapy Advisor.

The most recent effort to more frontally disclose the risk for BIA-ALCL is a final guidance document released by the FDA on September 28, 2020.1 The guidance, which applies to all breast implants, advised breast implant manufacturers to add a black box warning that mentions the risks associated with breast implants such as BIA-ALCL. In the guidance, the FDA also encouraged manufacturers to incorporate a patient decision checklist in the labeling to “better ensure certain information is received and understood by patients.”1,2 Manufacturers, however, are not required to follow these recommendations.

Zuckerman, who is a member of the Breast Implant Working Group, said she was surprised by the FDA’s decision to recommend rather than require these facets of the guidance. “We don’t have the answer to that question other than we have talked to FDA officials who said that at least some of this will at some point be a requirement, but we don’t know when that is,” she said.

With no mandates in place to ensure that patients receive information about the risks for BIA-ALCL—among other breast implant-associated complications—upfront, the industry is left to educate—and this does not seem to be working.

Patient advocates Terri McGregor and Jennifer Cook, both of whom have received a BIA-ALCL diagnosis, discussed a misleading patient brochure that has further contributed to the misinformation about breast implant-associated cancer risk. Sold online by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the brochure featured the symbol for breast reconstruction awareness—a modified pink ribbon—and the slogan “Closing the loop on breast cancer.”3

The brochure was sponsored by several companies, including 2 prominent breast implant manufacturers, Allergan and Mentor. Though the document was promoted on Twitter by the ASPS and users were encouraged users to “stock up now” ahead of Breast Reconstruction Day,3,4  it notably made no mention of BIA-ALCL—not even on the page that describes the risks and safety issues associated with breast implants.

Conflicts of Interest Cloud Risk Disclosure

[…]

Eric Swanson, MD, a plastic surgeon at the Swanson Center for Cosmetic Surgery in Leawood, Kansas, told Cancer Therapy Advisor that plastic surgeons’ financial ties to breast implant manufacturers are part of the reason why they have been slow to respond to the issue of BIA-ALCL. “There’s a big problem with conflict of interest in plastic surgery. Once [a person has] taken funds from a company, it is very rare for the taker to be critical of that company,” Swanson said.

[….]

Zuckerman described the ASPS brochure as “terribly” out of date. “The Institute of Medicine report is more than 20 years old, and there has been a great deal of research since then,” she said.

[….]

The ASPS Brochure: Current Status

When Cancer Therapy Advisor inquired about the content of the brochure, an ASPS representative agreed that the information was “outdated” and removed the brochure from sale on its website.

Enclosed in the ASPS brochure was a list of websites that included breastimplantsafety.org, which—despites its domain name—did not include any safety information about breast implants. Instead, the domain redirected users to a different domain, smartbeautyguide.com, the patient site for The Aesthetic Society, a professional organization for plastic surgeons. A representative for The Aesthetic Society told Cancer Therapy Advisor that breastimplantsafety.org was active until 2015, when it migrated to their patient site, Smart Beauty Guide.

“We have been developing and will launch our new Aesthetic Society website that will include a dedicated section for patient education,” the representative wrote in an email. Within days of being contacted by Cancer Therapy Advisor, The Aesthetic Society updated the breastimplantsafety.org domain name to direct users to an existing page that provides resources about breast implants, including information about BIA-ALCL and breast implant illness, a systemic condition characterized by a wide range of symptoms that is currently under FDA investigation.18

Read the full article here

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.”

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