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France May Pay For Breast Implant Removal, UK Downplays Risks

Silicone Breast Implants Found to Be Dangerous

As many as 30,000 French women may be ordered to have their breast implants removed after more than 1,000 of them have ruptured and eight of the women developed cancer. Although thousands of women in the UK have also received the implants, British health authorities say due to “insufficient evidence to indicate any association with cancer,” they see no reason to order women to have them removed. They instead suggest that women see their healthcare providers if they experience problems.

Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), a company in Seyne-sur-Mer in France, has since closed after receiving more than 2,000 complaints and having the breast implants pulled from the market as they were found to have misreported the form of silicon contained. Prosecutors in Marseille have opened a criminal investigation into the firm. The company was once the world’s third-largest producer of silicone implants, producing 100,000 per year and exporting 80% of its output.

The French newspaper Liberation has reported that 300,000 women around the world have received PIP implants. The non-medical grade of gel that they contain can become lumpy and granular, increasing the risk that the pouch would tear and leak into the patient’s body.

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France’s Health Ministry will make the decision on whether the country will pay for the removal of the implants by the Friday of this week with guidance from the French National Cancer Institute. Government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse said state health care insurance would pay for implant removal operations "if it involves a health and public safety emergency." Obviously, a recommendation for mandatory removal of the implants would impost substantial costs to France’s health care system.

"We are facing a health crisis linked with a fraud. The entire profession is aware of this,” says Laurent Lantieri, a cosmetic surgeon in France and a member of a health department committee formed to evaluate the issue. “There is no urgency but we no longer have any choice -- all these implants must be removed," he said.

The French government would not, however, pay for women to receive new breast implants, unless they were received due to reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. About 20% of French women with the implants got them for medical reasons, primarily after breast cancer.

British agency Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) disagrees. In a statement, the agency said that its own testing had found no evidence of toxicity in the PIP implants and no evidence to suggest they should be removed. However, the MHRA will continue to work with French health authorities and "will consider any new evidence which comes to light as a priority."

In the meantime, "Surgeons will be in contact with any patient who has received this type of implant if any action is required," the MHRA statement said. "If women are worried or believe that their implants may have ruptured, they should contact their implanting surgeon."