When Dow Corning Corp. stopped providing implant-grade silicone and severely restricted the supply of its medical-grade silicone, the repercussions were wide-ranging. Other silicone suppliers stepped forward with copycat substitutes—but at much higher prices. Now—way too late—we find Dow Corning's withdrawal may not have been necessary. Dow Corning abandoned the business after being inundated by lawsuits over silicone-gel breast implants. The supplier feared further litigation over other medical devices that used its silicone.
A new government-funded study on silicone-gel breast implants states they don't cause cancer, lupus, scleroderma or any other systemic, life-threatening illness.
Implants aren't off the hook, however. The report found they can rupture, deflate or cause breast tissue contraction, leading to disfigurement, severe pain and the need for further surgery. The committee in charge of the study implicitly criticized implant manufacturers for not adequately warning women of these complications.
The report's findings mirror similar studies, plus the evidence of real-world experience. It's disappointing that a study from a blue-ribbon panel didn't exist earlier. The medical and legal crisis has been going on for more than a decade, and a truly independent investigation was needed.
The new study might ease supply and cost problems for medical device makers who use silicone components in highly critical applications—items such as brain shunts for hydrocephalic children and leads for pacemakers. It's highly unlikely, however, Dow Corning will re-enter these markets because of the liability question.
But maybe those that have filled in can now do so with less thought of future litigation.