Studies don’t give a clear answer
The safety of silicone gel breast implants still isn’t clear, according to a new look at more than 30 studies on the subject.
Uncertainty about safety has swirled around silicone gel breast implants for years. They were suspended from the market in 1992 and then allowed again in 2006. Throughout, despite many studies, definitive evidence about whether they are linked to health problems ranging from cancer to connective tissue disorders to depression has remained elusive.
The new review sought to compare such health outcomes in women who did and did not get silicone gel breast implants. A team led by Ethan Balk, assistant professor of health services, policy and practice at Brown University, found the studies lacked enough statistical rigor to provide clear evidence either for safety or harm.
“Despite numerous studies reporting on the risk for many diseases and conditions, evidence was insufficient of an association between breast implants and any health outcome,” Balk’s team writes in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “No outcome had at least two adequately adjusted studies that yielded consistent estimates of associations.”
Balk explained that the difficulty researchers have faced stems from fundamental differences between women who get breast implants—whether for augmentation or for restoration after mastectomy—and women who don’t.
“Some of these differences are easily measurable,” Balk says. “For example, they are more likely to smoke, be thin and white. But many are difficult to measure quantitatively. For example, they are more likely to have been teased about their appearance.”
While some databases may not have captured enough information, Balk says, other studies might be worth re-analyzing with new methods.
“We are hopeful that this study will serve as a guide to future researchers to improve analyses of currently available studies and of future studies,” he says. The review may also inspire creation of a new trove of data to assist researchers.