Misleading Advice Being Promoted About Cancer and Breast Implants Link

The consumer watchdog group Public Citizen is calling for federal regulators to intervene in the efforts of some organizations to get plastic surgeons to downplay the potential risk of cancer from breast implants. 

In a letter to the FDA on February 17, Public Citizen warned the agency’s commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, that the heads of two plastic surgeon organizations were essentially urging other surgeons to mischaracterize recent findings that suggest a link between some forms of cancer and breast implants.

According to Public Citizen, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) held a recent webinar during which surgeons were urged not to use the words “tumor,” “malignancy,” or “cancer.” Instead they told them to only use the word “condition.”

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The webinar was held shortly after the FDA issued a medical device safety communication warning that there is a possible link between breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL); which is a form of cancer. The FDA indicates that it is aware of as many as 60 cases worldwide of ALCL that developed in the breasts of women who received either silicone or saline breast implants.

A concerned plastic surgeon sent Public Citizen a transcript of the webinar, during which ASPS President Dr. Phil Haeck said plastic surgeons were justified in “downplaying” the malignant potential of ALCL tumors. The webinar also instructed plastic surgeons to tell patients that cancer surgery was curative, which Public Citizen says is inaccurate.

Public Citizen is asking the FDA to force the two organizations to stop instructing plastic surgeons to avoid using the word cancer and to stop the spread of misinformation.

ALCL usually affects only one in every 500,000 women. To have ALCL develop in the breast is even rarer, with only three per 100 million women per year diagnosed.

Allergan Inc. and Mentor Corp., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, are the manufacturers of breast implants in the United States. The FDA is requiring them to update label warnings on their implants to alert doctors and consumers about the reports of ALCL from breast implants.

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