No link found between breast implants, tissue diseases

October 25, 1994|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Sun Staff Writer

An article in yesterday's Sun should have stated that manufacturers of silicone breast implants have agreed to pay $4.3 billion into a settlement fund to compensate women claiming injuries.

The Sun regrets the error.

Two new studies have found that women with silicone-gel breast implants are no more likely to develop connective tissue diseases than are women who do not have the implants.

Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center found no link between the implants and one of the diseases -- scleroderma. A larger study at the Harvard Medical School found no evidence that implants played a role in that illness or several others, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"I think the body of evidence fails to support any relationship between silicone breast implants and what we would consider well-defined connective tissue diseases," said Dr. Marc Hochberg, a rheumatologist who directed the Maryland study.

Scientists from the two institutions are scheduled to present their findings this week at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Minneapolis. While Dr. Hochberg agreed to discuss his findings in advance, researchers from Harvard University refused to issue any statements prior to today's presentation.

Nonetheless, the rheumatology association made a summary of the Harvard study available yesterday.

In recent years, thousands of women have complained that leaking implants caused a range of health problems including breast and joint pain, chronic fatigue and depression. Many have also blamed leakage for scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus -- connective tissue diseases. These destroy materials holding together many of the body's structures including bones, muscles, the liver and the heart.

Earlier this year, manufacturers agreed to pay $4.3 million to settle claims filed by thousands of women across the country who have complained of symptoms that were allegedly caused by leaking implants.

In his study, Dr. Hochberg compared 860 women with scleroderma and 2,061 women who did not have the disease. If breast implants triggered scleroderma, he said, one would expect the implants to be more common among women who suffered from the disease.

But that was not so.

About 1 percent of the women with scleroderma had received implants before developing the disease, an autoimmune disorder dTC that causes scarring, hardening and blood vessel damage to the skin, lungs, heart and kidneys. Breast implants were about as common among women who did not have the disease.

The Harvard group relied on a continuing study of 121,700 nurses who have supplied information since 1976 about a variety of illnesses. Two years ago, researchers hoping to shed light on the implant debate sent questionnaires to nurses who had reported connective tissue diseases -- including lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome, a condition that causes excessive dryness of the eyes, mouth and vagina.

Women with breast implants were no more likely to get any of the diseases than were women who did not have the implants, the study found.

Dr. Norman Anderson, an internist with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said researchers in both studies ignored another disease -- fibromyalgia -- that he believes afflicts many women who have complained of symptoms. Now, he said, he fears that doctors and implant manufacturers will use the studies to discount any type of complaint.

Fibromyalgia, he said, triggers a ripple effect of shoulder pain, neck spasms, migraines, chronic fatigue and depression.

"The syndrome is hellishly hard to treat, and it's a debilitating illness," he said. "My fear is [researchers] have been looking for zebras when there were horses all around."

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