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`I was ill and in pain... I wanted them removed'

ELAINE COOMBER accepted the advice of her cosmetic surgeon four years ago to replace the silicone implants she had had for 20 years with the Trilucent soya bean oil devices.

Now the fears about silicone she thought she had put behind her have returned to haunt her after yesterday's government health warning about the new implants.

"I was told they were a safer alternative. I can't believe I had it done. But at the time I felt confident in the surgeon."

Miss Coomber, 53, of Hextable, Kent, said she was shocked by the news that the implants had been banned. "But I am not surprised because of the stories I have heard of other women having problems. My advice to women is, if you don't have symptoms, don't panic, if you do, go to a doctor."

In 1995, Miss Coomber set up a self-help group, Survivors of Silicone, after experiencing persistent problems with her original implants, which ruptured and adhered to her breast tissue. "I had had children and I decided I wanted an uplift. I was lucky the implant was small. If it had been larger I don't know what might have happened.

"I had been having problems with leakage of the silicone and then I heard stories about other problems. I was ill and had pain in the breast area. I decided I wanted them removed because I was worried."

Her new implants brought little improvement, however, and she now faces the decision of whether to leave them in place or have them removed. "They have been painful ever since. The question I would like to ask the Health Department is why they didn't do proper testing before they let them on to the market."

David Sharpe, professor of plastic surgery at Bradford Royal Infirmary and an expert on breast implants, said the concerns about silicone were unfounded and that new implants using other materials had been marketed to frightened women in an aggressive manner.

"It is very alarming for women. Many will want to be re-planted. I don't use them [soya bean implants] because I strongly believe in silicone. If a patient doesn't trust me enough to use silicone I would rather send them elsewhere."

Silicone gel breast implants were banned in the US in 1991 after a series of court cases claiming they caused connective tissue damage and a range of other conditions. However, subsequent investigations have failed to demonstrate a link between the implants and disease and they have never been banned in Britain.