UK regulator ready to re-examine safety of breast implants

Haroon Siddique
Photograph: Donna McWilliam/AP

The UK medical regulator has indicated it is willing to re-examine whether there is any link between breast implants and a variety of symptoms suffered by women.

Patients have complained for decades about what is generically known as breast implant illness but it is not officially recognised in the UK because the medical profession has been unable to establish a link.

However, the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has expressed its willingness to review the status quo amid an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches into the impact of implants. The documentary-makers spoke to individuals as well as a surgeon who has performed 3,000 explants and said almost everyone felt better as a result.

A MHRA spokesperson said: “I think it’s entirely reasonable that book should be opened again now, and we and our advisory group are already looking at the evidence around this and we would be eager to learn more from patients, particularly about their experiences in this area.”

Related: Breast implants study reveals serious safety concerns

Symptoms associated with breast implant illness can include choking, heart palpitations, brain fog, rashes, hair loss, joint pain, anxiety and depression.

The Dispatches presenter, Abbie Eastwood, had breast implants when she was 25. “My hair fell out, I had memory fog, aches and pains, utter exhaustion,” she said. “I had to stop work. I spent whole days in bed.”

After doctors told her she had rheumatoid arthritis she found a US website, hosting 70,000 women with the same symptoms, which made her think it could be her implants.

The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), changed its stance this year noting that while it did not have definitive evidence that implants caused the ailments complained of, “the current evidence supports that some women experience systemic symptoms that may resolve when their breast implants are removed”.

Related: Breast implants linked to cancer withdrawn from sale in Europe

Talking about the 3,000 explants he has carried out, Azhar Aslam, a private surgeon working on Harley Street, told Dispatches: “Anecdotally, almost everyone said they were feeling better.”

The MHRA also agreed that breast implant-related cancer is probably under-diagnosed, as more than 250 women prepare to bring a class action over possible links to the disease.

The spokesperson said: “Because it’s an evolving diagnosis, the WHO only classified it as a condition fairly recently, it’s reasonable to assess that it probably is under-diagnosed.”

The regulator said it has received 57 reports of implant-related breast cancer, out of more than 1m implants in the UK. “We’ve been working extensively with the best expert input that we can get to establish the facts around the safety and performance of these devices and at this stage we have no reason to believe they should be taken off the market,” it said.

An NHS spokesperson said: “While there isn’t currently any clinical evidence that these symptoms represent a new kind of illness, women experiencing them should seek advice from their GP at the earliest opportunity.”