Conference Coverage

FDA panel calls for changes to breast implant rupture screening



A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel urged the agency to switch its recommended screening method for silent breast implant ruptures from MRI to ultrasound and to push the first screening examination back from the current 3 years post implant to 5 years.

Members of the FDA’s General and Plastic Surgery Advisory Panel also made suggestions to the FDA regarding how it might improve communication about the risks of breast implants to the public in general and to people considering implants in particular.

FDA icon

The panel also discussed the sort of safety and efficacy assessments the FDA should require for acellular dermal matrix (ADM), also known as mesh, to add the material’s label for use during breast reconstruction or implant augmentation. Surgeons have used mesh routinely as a surgical aid at other body sites, such as the abdomen. Although ADM is now also widely used during breast surgery, it has never undergone testing or labeling for use in that setting.

The FDA convened the advisory committee meeting largely to assess and discuss data and concerns about two recently appreciated complications of breast implant placement – breast implant–associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) and a still poorly defined and described constellation of autoimmune and rheumatoid-like symptoms reported anecdotally by some breast implant recipients called Breast Implant Illness (BII). But agency officials asked the panel to also address these other issues related to the safety of breast implants and implant surgery.

The revised screening recommendations were primarily a response to a lack of compliance with current FDA recommendations to screen for breast implant rupture with MRI starting 3 years after placement and then every 2 years.

Dr. Frank R. Lewis Jr., executive director, emeritus, American Board of Surgery, Philadelphia Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Frank R. Lewis Jr.

The problem is that a screening MRI costs about $1,500-$2,000 and is generally not covered by insurance when done for this purpose, although it is often covered when used to investigate a suspected rupture. The result is that less than 5% of implanted patients comply with the recommended screening schedule, noted committee chair Frank R. Lewis Jr., MD, executive director, emeritus, of the American Board of Surgery in Philadelphia.

“Effectively it’s a useless recommendation,” he said. “Ultrasound is far easier, quicker, and cheaper” and seems effective for screening.

The advisory panel recommended starting ultrasound screening 5 years after implantation, based on MRI screening data showing that virtually all ruptures don’t occur until after 5 years, and then following with ultrasound screening every 3 years after that. The panel recommended using MRI when the ultrasound result is equivocal or when the patient has symptoms suggesting rupture.

Dr. Karen E. Burke, dermatologist, New York Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Karen E. Burke

The panel gave FDA staffers several suggestions on how to improve informed consent, as well as how to get word out to the general public that breast implants pose risks that merit serious consideration from prospective patients.

After hearing testimony during the sessions from several dozen women who told horror stories of the complications they experienced from breast implants, panel member Karen E. Burke, MD, PhD, spoke for many on the panel when she said “no doubt patients feel that the informed consent process failed them, that they were not aware of the risks.”

Dr. Burke suggested that patients must be informed so that they realize that breast implants are not static objects that will always sit unchanged in their body for the rest of their lives, that certain factors such as allergy or family history of tissue disease might predispose them to autoimmune-type reactions and that the diverse symptoms described for BII are possible sequelae.

A black box warning for the potential of developing anaplastic large-cell lymphoma should also go into the label, said Dr. Burke, a dermatologist who practices in New York City.

Dr. Lewis ridiculed the information booklets that implant manufacturers currently provide for patients as too long and dense. “They were not constructed to inform patients in the best way; they were constructed to provide legal protection.” He called for creating a two- or three-page list of potential adverse effects and points to consider.

Other panel members suggested public service advertisements similar to what is used to inform consumers about the risk from cigarettes. Dr. Burke recommended getting the word out about BII to other medical specialties that are more likely to see affected patients first, such as rheumatologists, immunologists, and dermatologists. She vowed to speak about these complications at an upcoming meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology. But other panel members noted that BII right now remains without any official medical definition nor clear causal link to breast implants.

Dr. Binita Ashar, director, Division of Surgical Devices, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, Md.

Dr. Binita Ashar

The question of exactly what safety and efficacy data the FDA might require from manufacturers seeking a breast surgery indication for ADM was less clear.

Binita Ashar, MD, director of the FDA’s Division of Surgical Devices, highlighted the agency’s dilemma about considering data for a breast surgery indication. “The challenge for us is that we can’t expect a control arm because everyone today is using” mesh, she explained. “We’re looking for guidance on how to understand the risk-to-benefit profile” of ADM.

A plastic surgeon on the advisory panel, Pierre M. Chevray, MD, PhD, from Houston Methodist Hospital summarized the way ADM mesh reached its current niche in routine, U.S. breast surgery.

About 20 years ago, plastic surgeons began using mesh during implant surgery to improve eventual breast cosmesis. Surgeons began to wrap the implant in mesh and then attached the mesh to the pectoral muscle so that the implant could go on top of the muscle and not beneath it. It greatly diminished capsular contraction around the implant over time, reduced the risk for implant movement, and allowed for more natural positioning of the breast with the implant inside, he said.

Dr. Pierre M. Chevray, plastic surgeon, Houston Methodist Hospital Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Pierre M. Chevray

Another factor in the growing use of mesh was heavy promotion by manufacturers to a generation of plastic surgeons, Dr. Chevray said. But use of ADM may also lead to a slightly increased rate of seromas and infections.

“The benefit from mesh is hard to prove and is questionable” because it largely depends on a subjective assessment by a surgeon or patient, Dr. Chevray said. “The cost [of ADM] is substantial, but no data have shown that outcomes are better” with its use. Despite that, “nearly every surgeon uses mesh” these days, he noted.


Next Article: