Breast implants don't cause major diseases, panel says

13 scientists consider tendency to break, deflate as `primary safety issue'

June 21, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

An independent panel of 13 scientists convened by the Institute of Medicine at the request of Congress has concluded that silicone breast implants do not cause any major diseases.

"Some women with breast implants are indeed very ill and the IOM committee is very sympathetic to their distress," the group wrote in a report to be made public tomorrow. "However, it can find no evidence that these women are ill because of their implants."

The report, more than 400 pages long, says the "primary safety issue" with implants is their tendency to rupture or deflate and to lead to infections or hardening or scarring of the breast tissue. Little argument occurs about these localized problems, which can be painful and disfiguring and which often lead women to have additional surgery.

But the report asserts in forceful terms that there is no reason to believe that the implants cause rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or any other systemic disease. Women who say their implants have caused them to suffer these or related problems have turned breast implants into a leading source of liability litigation.

Because the report comes from the Institute of Medicine, the medical arm of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, it is expected to be influential in setting scientific agendas and encouraging women to accept settlements from implant makers rather than take their cases to court.

The Dow Corning Corp., which filed for bankruptcy noting the burden of its breast implant litigation, has agreed to pay women $3.2 billion to settle their claims. Other implant manufacturers, Baxter International, Bristol-Myers Squibb and 3M, have agreed to a settlement estimated at $3 billion combined.

In addition, thousands of women have settled their cases in private agreements with implant makers or gone to trial and won awards that reached millions of dollars.

The Institute of Medicine committee estimated that about 1.5 million to 1.8 million American women have had silicone breast implants, about 70 percent for breast enlargement, the rest as reconstruction after mastectomy.

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