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Breast implant operations increase, despite controversy

A saline implant, left, and a silcone implant  
Beauty for a price: Plastic surgery fixes almost anything

Dow Corning reaches $3.2B implant settlement
July 8, 1998
Web posted at: 10:55 p.m. EDT (0255 GMT)

(CNN) -- Women are getting breast implants in record numbers, despite the negative publicity the surgery has received in recent years.

Although scientific studies have failed to show a link between silicone-gel breast implants and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the implants have not been given a clean bill of health.

Thousands of women who claim they suffered health problems due to implants sued Dow Corning Corp. On Wednesday, the parties announced they had reached a $3.2 billion settlement.

The deal could give $31,000 to each of 170,000 women, and would allow Dow Corning to avoid Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Despite the controversy over the implants, there has been a 275 percent increase in the operations since 1992, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration practically banned the use of silicone-gel implants, because of the safety concerns.

"If we had been talking back in 1992, 1993, I would have said I did one, maybe two augmentations and took out maybe 50 sets of implants per year. Now, it's just the opposite," said Dr. Leroy Young of Washington University Medical Center.


That is the trend in medical practices across the country, according to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.

Because of the moratorium on silicone-gel implants, the only option for most women today is to use saline-filled implants.

"The saline implants are very safe. The problem with the saline is that they, over a lifetime, have a high risk of leaking," said Dr. Rod Hester, a plastic surgeon.

Doctors say Michelle Pitts is typical of the women who seek implants. Pitts is 27 years old, in a professional career and is unhappy with her body image.

"It was for me, personally," said Pitts, explaining her decision to opt for implants. "I'm not married, so it wasn't for a husband or significant other. It was just for me, basically."

Some women are concerned about the possible link between implants and connective-tissue diseases such as scleroderma.

"A few ask questions about that, but I think that the epidemiological studies and the other scientific research that has been done has been very reassuring to women," Young said.

Still, the question of safety remains unresolved. At the end of this month, the Institute of Medicine -- a private research group -- will hold a meeting to review the latest studies on the issue.

Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.
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