Women who have breast enlargements tend to drink more, have more sex partners and get pregnant younger, and are more likely to have abortions, use the pill and dye their hair - factors that researchers should consider when studying the health risks of breast implants, a study said.
Linda S. Cook of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said her study was conducted to prod implant researchers to weigh lifestyle factors when accessing the safety of implants. She said implants could be getting the blame for health problems caused by other risk factors.
“You have to look at these factors anew in every study that you do,” she said in a telephone interview. The study was reported in Wednesday’s The Journal of the American Medical Association.
For example, hair dye could increase the risk of connective tissue diseases while oral contraceptives may reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Failing to consider those factors could conceal the risk arising from breast implants, the study said.
About 1 million American women have had implants, 80 percent for cosmetic reasons. Thousands claim thlat silicone leaks have caused arthritis and such immune system disorders as lupus and scleroderma.
Studies of thousands of women haven’t turned up solid evidence that implants cause ailments but the issue is still under debate among scientists and in the courts, where Dow Corning Co. and other silicone gel implant makers face huge lawsuits.
The Food and Drug Administration in 1992 restricted silicone gel implants to mastectomy patients in medical experiments. Saline-filled implants are still available for use in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.
Implant activists were critical of the study, with one warning it could be used to slander women who have had their breasts enlarged.
“We believe it would be an insult not only to these women but to the authors of the JAMA study as well if self-serving parties were to use the JAMA study as a means for character assassination,” said Sybil Goldrich, head of Los Angeles-based Command Trust Network, which represents woman suing breast implant manufacturers.
John Musser, a spokesman for Dow Chemical Co., which owns half of Dow Corning, praised the study for seeking “what other so-called confounding factors may be contributing to these claimed illnesses.”
“It’s important research because it does pitch up the importance of other lifestyle factors in determining one’s health risks,” Musser said.
In the study, Cook used data from previous studies of women in Washington state, New Jersey and Atlanta. The data covered 3,570 women - 80 of whom had breast implants for augmentation.
Cook found women with enlargements were nearly three times more likely to drink seven or more alcoholic drinks a week, more than 1.5 times as likely to be pregnant before age 20 and twice as likely to have had an abortion.
She found they were more than twice as likely to have used oral contraceptives, about 4.5 times more likely to dye their hair, nearly nine times as likely to have had at least 14 sexual partners and much less likely to be heavy than their counterparts without implants.
One co-author of the study, Janet Daling, said she has been an expert witness for implant makers, including Dow Corning, while another, Dr. Noel S. Weiss, acknowledged that he has served as a consultant to law firms representing implant makers.