Last year, the French based company PIP (Poly Implant Prothèse) had their implants banned because it was discovered that they were utilizing a non-medical grade silicone as the filler for their gel implants. In addition, the recent reported death of a French woman from the rare form of cancer ALCL, who had PIP breast implants has led to a tremendous amount of media concern about a company recognized by few American women. Inspections in France as early as 2001 had revealed numerous non-conformities surrounding the manufacture of PIP implants. In 2009, it was reported that there were high rupture rates with their implants in France, leading to allegations of implant shell problems. In 2010 distribution was suspended and the company filed for bankruptcy.
PIP appears to have used two types of silicone gel within their breast implants; the “Medical Grade” silicone manufactured by Nusil, (made in US and France), and a less expensive formula that they claimed was chemically identical. When implant manufacturers describe their silicone gel, they often uses terms such as “Industrial Grade”, “Medical Grade”, “Health Care Grade” and even “Implant Grade.” These terms can differ around the world. There are multiple tests for silicones including mechanical, chemical, animal, biochemical, cell culture tests and clinical evaluations that are required to determine what silicone formulations are safe for long term human implantation.1 Summing it up, “Medical Grade” silicones are those that have passed extensive, strict biological testing, and in the United States the manufacturers must formally submit their data to the FDA for approval.
The fallout from this discovery has left women worldwide confused and worried about breast augmentations and implants. It appears that various European and South American Health Ministry’s are offering different options to women who have these devices. While France is offering to pay for the removal and replacement of PIP implants used in breast reconstruction, Venezuela will pay for explantation only. Other European nations, such as the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, and Denmark, to name a few, are suggesting only close follow-up of women who have these devices. Each health ministry, as well as the FDA, has repeated their conclusion on breast implants that although there may be a very low but increased risk of developing ALCL adjacent to breast implants, with less than 70 cases reported in the world literature to date, these represent a very small fraction of the 5-10 million women who have received breast implants worldwide. In addition, PIP implants have not played a significant role in the US market since the company’s 2000 request to market saline implants in the US was denied. The silicone implants that are presently used in the United States are manufactured by Allergan, Mentor and Silimed/Sientra, and must all meet the strict requirements of our FDA.
Finally, as with all silicone gel breast implants, there is no exact expiration date. No implant will last a life-time, and all silicone implants, regardless of their manufacturer, should be followed and imaged as they age.
1 Allistar Winn, Manufacturing and FDA Compliance Support, date accessed 12-29-11, date modified October 10, 2011.