Venezuela offers to pay for removal of faulty breast implants

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Venezuela's government has offered to pay for the removal of PIP breast implants feared to be at risk of rupture. They would cover the cost of the surgery for Venezuelan women but would not pay for replacement implants, Health Minister Eugenia Sader said. Ms Sader said many implants made by French firm Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) had been imported illegally.

The French authorities have recommended that 30,000 French women have the PIP implants removed as a precaution. The French government, which stresses that there is no evidence of a cancer link, has said it will cover the cost. The implants were banned in several countries last year after they were found to contain industrial grade silicone filler, making them more liable to split. The French authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the company which went into administration in 2010.

The silicone inside the implants is not medical grade - but was intended for use in mattresses. However tests have not shown any increased risk of toxicity from this filler compared to normal implants. Mechanical testing has shown the implant covers have an increased risk of rupturing. The gel inside can irritate, increasing the risk of inflammation reaction - making removal more difficult. Although there is no increased breast cancer risk, one case of a rare form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) was recently reported in France sparking worries.

Ms Sader said that patients who were worried could go to hospital for a check-up and have surgery to remove the implants if they wished. The Venezuelan government would not, however, pay for new implants she said. The health minister said that a significant number of PIP implants had been brought into Venezuela without the proper authorization. “They were implanted illegally and now those patients are at risk,” she said.

An estimated 40,000 women in the country have breast enlargement surgery each year, said Dr. Marisol Graterol, president of the Venezuelan Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is an outspoken critic of the surgery's popularity, saying women shouldn't be sold on an image that big bosoms are attractive. The plastic surgery society recommended last week that women with PIP breast implants see a doctor to have them checked. Graterol said doctors should decide depending on each patient's situation whether or not the implants need to be removed. Sales of PIP implants were halted in Venezuela in April 2010, Graterol said.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Henry Saud said he removed ruptured PIP implants from more than 10 patients during the past year. In some cases, his patients hadn't noticed anything wrong and the leaking implants were detected during imaging exams, he said. In other cases, “they felt discomfort and had swelling.” “It used to be one of the most-used brands,” Saud said. He said most of the women opted to replace the PIP implants with those of other brands.

Breast augmentation surgery is popular in Venezuela, where implants are sometimes given to girls as a 15th birthday present. More than 300,000 implants are believed to have been sold globally by PIP over the past 12 years in some 65 countries. More than half of its exports went to South America. In Brazil, some 25,000 women are believed to have had PIP implants. Western Europe was another major market. Spain, Italy, Germany and Ukraine are known to have imported PIP silicone implants.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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