The truth about Silicone implants

Jack Nicholson was in a "bust-up" last week, say the tabloids. An unnamed "Hollywood socialite" claimed that the ageing hell-raiser had burst her silicone breast implants during a fight over dinner. Definitely embarrassing for the woman - but is leaking silicone also a health risk?

In the UK, 100,000 women have breasts which are not entirely their own. Of these, 60,000 elected to have extra bits put in - a la Paula Yates - to swell their figures, while 40,000 have had implants as part of reconstructive surgery after operations for breast cancer. And about 15,000 are currently trying to sue the company that made them.

Most breast implants are made of a silicone envelope with a liquid or gel-like silicone filling. A compound derived from sand, siliconewas assumed to be totally inert until the late Eighties when evidence started to emerge in America to suggest that it could "bleed" from its proper site and provoke skin and joint inflammation, and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Suddenly there were thousands of women claiming that their implants had caused everything from ME to cancer.

The bandwagon got a huge shove from litigation-hungry American lawyers and it has been rolling ever since. Silicone-filled implants were banned in the US, while over here every woman who has one inserted is registered by the Department of Health so that they can easily be traced. Thousands have had old implants removed.

Meanwhile, US lawyers are pursuing a huge action against Dow Corning, the major implant manufacturer. British women are being encouraged to join in, and so far nearly 15,000 have come forward.

Most of these women say they have suffered recurrent ill health for years, and that the symptoms began when they had implants and ended when they were removed. However, this testimony is not reflected in the scientific literature. In the past four years there have been 18 studies of possible links between silicone and auto-immune disease, and none has found a connection. One of the biggest, by researchers at Harvard Medical School, examined 87,500 nurses, of whom 1,200 had breast implants. It found no greater incidence of illness among women who had implants than among those who had not. However, the lawyers argue that this (and every other study) had methodological flaws.

On balance it looks as though the risk of auto-immune disease - if any - from leaking silicone is very small. Many plastic surgeons are playing safe, anyway, by using other substances. One, called Trilucent, is made from soya-derived triglycerides. Unlike silicone, it allows X-rays to pass through unimpeded, so mammography is more effective. And if it does leak, the makers claim it is well tolerated by the body.

Even discounting silicone reactions, breast implant surgery carries risks. It can cause blood clots that need to be removed, and occasionally the implants cause irritation, an allergic reaction, or chronic breast pain. Some women are left lopsided. Implants are not entirely safe to remove, either - in September a woman in Cheshire died after a removal operation went wrong. The good news is that they do not normally affect the ability to breastfeed.If your heart is set on breast implants, make sure you go to a surgeon who specialises in them, rather than a general surgeonn

Further information: the British Association of Cosmetic Surgeons (0171- 323 5728), or the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, 35 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC1 (enclose large SAE).

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Software Implementation and Support Consultant

    £28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A consultant is required to pro...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Assistant

    £12675 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Assistant is required...

    Recruitment Genius: Lead Software Developer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Case Handler / Probate Assistant

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler/Probate ...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn