Lessons learned from the PIP scandal
The PIP scandal
In 2010, it was became apparent that something was amiss with PIP breast implants. It was realised that the incidences of rupture in women with PIP implants far exceeded those of other implants. This was due to French company PIP’s use of sub-standard silicone gel that caused the implants’ casing to split – causing pain, swelling, redness and a change in feel and appearance of the breasts in women who’d received them.
A ruptured implant can cause a plethora of different symptoms, some that would not necessarily be associated with the breasts. Many women reported problems with their immunity, general malaise, and excruciating neck, back and chest pain, symptoms that typically went undiagnosed for months. Undergoing scans finally revealed ruptured PIP implants for some of these women. Burst implants can cause dangerous and unpleasant symptoms and apart from pain and infection, silicone can leak into the lymph nodes and can even leave deposits in the spine and armpits. These undesirable symptoms often abated with the removal of the implants, but some women have refused replacement implants because of their fear of suffering the symptoms again, and have then been left with cavities where the implants were, cavities that fill with blood and need to be drained on a regular basis. Other women are so badly scarred physically that they are deemed unsuitable for replacement implants.
Hundreds of women were incapacitated by ruptured implants, enduring months of pain and debility and being unable to work. Because it still isn’t clear what the long-term effects of PIP implants are, many women live with the constant worry about what will happen to them in the future. This is particularly true of women who know that the silicone gel had spread to their lymph nodes.
The Keogh Review
The Keogh review into surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures issued in 2013 was ordered by the government in response to the PIP scandal – perhaps the only positive aspect to the scandal was that it brought the issues of inadequate safety procedures in the cosmetic industry to the forefront of the news, and it was realised that many measures were desperately needed in order to avoid patients being harmed as a consequence of cosmetic surgery. Almost 50,000 women in the UK alone are thought to have received PIP implants.
Poor record keeping
As well as the appalling physical harm PIP implants caused some women, it also transpired that many cosmetic surgery providers had inadequate record-keeping procedure, and so many women were unable to establish whether or not they had received PIP implants. The PIP scandal prompted the government to try to rectify this, and a new register was promised whereby doctors must inform patients in full the details of any medicines or implants they have, with detailed information held in national registries. This is in the process of being rolled out in the UK, and eventually all breast implants will be recorded in the new register, in the same way that hip and knee prostheses are logged now.
In further measures, the GMC (General Medical Council) announced in April this year that sanctions will be imposed on their members who use aggressive marketing techniques such as offering breast implants as competition prizes, two-for-one offers – so-called “mother and daughter deals” – and time-limited offers. Training will also be improved, with the Royal College of Surgeons establishing new qualifications and standards for cosmetic surgery. Surgeons will be required to have professional indemnity.
Choosing a reputable implant manufacturer – what do you really know about your breast implants?
What is abundantly clear in the wake of PIP is that it is crucial to choose an reputable implant manufacturer. Breast implants are a commitment that require careful consideration and planning and so anyone thinking of having them should discuss their options at length with their surgeon. It’s imperative to know from where the implants will come and by whom they were produced.
One reputable long-established company is Polytech, which has over 1,500 different implants from which to choose. Not only do the implants look natural but they are also safe, and their 25 years in business Polytech have helped ensure peace of mind for women with the quality and longevity of their products. I spent a whole day understanding the laborious process of how safe breast implants are made, and I was struck by the passion and dedication from every member of staff, I had no idea the strict standards in place for every single breast implant made, and it made me think that often in the decision to have breast surgery the choice of implant is not something we place great priority on, but actually it is probably one of the most important decisions in the process of breast surgery, a choice we are often denied as the surgeon has authority on what implant he deems ‘best’ but this campaign #YouBodyYourChoiceYourJourney wants to change that, and I do too, because I passionately believe we should be responsible for our choices, it makes us more aware, educated and informed in the process.
PIP implants caused devastation to thousands of women worldwide and it is disgusting that women were ever allowed to be maimed in this way. But, at the very least, some important lessons have been learnt and the scandal served as a ‘wake -up’ call and showed that many recipients of breast implants and other cosmetic surgeries were in highly vulnerable situations. If the lessons of the PIP scandal are fully heeded then women who subsequently receive breast implants will benefit from increased safety and safeguards and hopefully a similar scandal will never occur.