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Women Tell FDA That More Research Is Needed On Health Risks Of Breast Implants


Advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have spent two days focusing on the safety of breast implants. What's emerged is a lack of scientific certainty about the risks implants pose to the millions of women who have them. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The panel heard from manufacturers, plastic surgeons, researchers and women who got implants for reconstruction after mastectomy or for cosmetic reasons. Tara Huppco (ph) told the panel she was a healthy mom and bodybuilder in her mid-30s when she decided to get implants for aesthetic reasons. Problems started just weeks after surgery, when she became extremely exhausted and could no longer remember the names of colleagues at work.

TARA HUPPCO: I had panic attacks that woke me in the night and anxiety that kept me shut in in my house. My hair stopped growing. My vision was blurry. I couldn't eat without pain and nausea. Every morning, getting out of bed, my legs were numb and my feet burned.

NEIGHMOND: Huppco was one of dozens of women to address the panel about a range of autoimmune-related symptoms, often called Breast Implant Illness. She had her implants removed about a year ago.

HUPPCO: My symptoms are almost all gone. I am the person that I used to be. And if I knew anything of what could have happened, I would have said, no, thank you to my implants.

NEIGHMOND: Like most women who spoke, Huppco implored the FDA to look more closely at safety concerns and move right away to take textured implants off the market. These implants have a bumpy surface to help them stay in place, but there's an increasing number of anecdotal reports suggesting they cause autoimmune illness. They've also been linked to a very rare cancer of the immune system.

Even so, most members of the panel say there's not enough evidence yet to rush textured implants off the market and that larger, longer-term studies are needed. Reina Doria (ph) with the implant manufacturer Mentor says the company provides patient education brochures to doctors to help patients understand potential risks of implants.

REINA DORIA: There may be a gap between what we are providing and what information is reaching the patients. We believe the best way to ensure patient understanding of risk is for them to have a conversation directly with their surgeon.

NEIGHMOND: The FDA panel is not expected to make specific recommendations about implants at this point. It is expected to call for more research into implant safety. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.


Award-winning journalist Patti Neighmond is NPR's health policy correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.