Friday, October 5, 2007

Elective Mastectomy: The New York Times Glosses Over Implant Risk

Recently, the New York Times did a feature article about young, healthy women who have a genetic risk of breast cancer and choose to have radical mastectomy as preventative medicine. It was a disturbing article for many reasons. However, what was most disturbing to us is that the article did not even mention the risks that come with reconstructive surgery and breast implants—both the known and unknown risks. The article also did not emphasize the point that the vast majority of breast cancer patients do not have the BRCA gene and that many women with the BRCA gene are cancer free.

Here is a link to the article “Cancer Free at 33, But Weighing a Mastectomy”

Carol Ciancutti-Leyva, director of Absolutely Safe wrote a terrific letter to the Editor of the New York Times. Here is the letter:

To the Editor:

Re: Cancer Free, but Weighing a Mastectomy (front page, September 16th)

I am a documentary filmmaker based in New York City. For several years, I have worked on a film about the controversy over the safety of breast implants. I was inspired to make this film after my mother had many complications from silicone breast implants. Her doctors advised her to have both breasts removed due to the frequent recurrence of breast tumors. She was told this would help prevent her chances of developing breast cancer. Within a year, one implant had ruptured. She had the implant replaced and soon after she experienced another rupture. Years of sickness followed her ruptured implants.

The article, Cancer Free, but Weighing a Mastectomy, neglected to discuss or even mention any of the possible complications associated with breast implants. Even though the FDA approved silicone implants in November 2006, the FDA acknowledges that breast implants (silicone and saline) carry known and unknown risks ( Both the FDA and implant manufactures agree that breast implants do not last a lifetime and will likely require removal or additional surgeries.

For the mastectomy patients discussed in the article, the notion of “risk” is the most alarming. Getting rid of one’s breasts and reconstructing new breasts with implants does not necessarily get rid of risk. These healthy women should know that they may be trading one set of potential risks—genetic--for another. In their latest advertising campaign for the “Natrelle” collection of breast implants, implant manufacturer Allergan, Inc. states that “the health consequences of ruptured silicone gel-filled breast implants have not been established.”

As women analyze their DNA and agonize over mastectomy to avoid a potential risk of cancer, they also need to read the fine print about saline and silicone breast implants. Like the BRCA gene, breast implants carry serious, potential risk. A “previvor” may outwit her family history, but unfortunately, she may not have the same luck with her implants.


Carol Ciancutti-Leyva