Conference Coverage

FDA panel leans toward more robust breast implant surveillance



– A mandatory, comprehensive approach to collecting adverse event data from breast implant recipients was favored during a March 25 hearing by a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel that oversees surgical devices.

This additional data could offer more complete information during the informed consent process for breast implants and potentially validate a new, autoimmune-like syndrome – breast implant illness (BII).

On the first day of a scheduled 2-day hearing, the advisory panel held no votes and took no formal actions. After a day of expert presentations and comments from more than 40 members of the public – mostly personal stories from affected patients and from plastic surgeons who place breast implants, panel members discussed a handful of questions from the FDA about relevant data to collect to better define the risks posed to breast implant recipients from breast-implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) and BII.

The advisory panel meeting took place as reports recently appeared documenting the scope of BIA-ALCL (Plast Reconstr Surg. 2019 March;143[3S]:65S-73S) and how to diagnose and manage BIA-ALCL (Aesthetic Surg J. 2019 March;39[S1}:S3-S13), and the existence of BII (Plast Reconstr Surg. 2019 March;143[3S]:74S-81S).

During the day’s two public comment periods, the panel heard from several women who gave brief accounts of developing and dealing with BIA-ALCL or BII.

“We think it’s important that all breast implant patients be aware of the risk for BIA-ALCL,” said Binita Ashar, MD, director of the FDAs Division of Surgical Devices. The FDA “is asking the panel what further steps need to be taken to understand the BIA-ALCL risk,” said Dr. Ashar as she opened the meeting of the General and Plastic Surgery Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee.

Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Mark W. Clemens

While the agency, as well as the plastic surgery community, have acknowledged the existence of BIA-ALCL since 2011, only recently have good data emerged on the scope of the complication. During the hearing, Mark W. Clemens, MD, a plastic surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, reported on his analysis of 457 unique cases of BIA-ALCL reported to the FDA since 2011. He found that the vast majority of cases had occurred in women who had received textured implants while a relatively small minority were linked with the placement of smooth implants.

Further scrutiny of the reported details of each case showed that none of the lymphomas were linked with a confirmed instance of “pure” smooth implant exposure. He also estimated the U.S. incidence of BIA-ALCL as roughly one case for every 20,000 implants. Complete, en bloc removal of the implant seems to be the most effective way to treat the cancer; most explanted patients have a good prognosis, he said.

Despite the apparent link between textured implants specifically and onset of BIA-ALCL, some panel members did not see a ban on textured implants as the answer.

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Dr. Mary H. McGrath

Texturing the implant helps to stabilize the implant in position. Without texturing “we would need to use something else to stabilize the implant, or there would be a tsunami of reoperations,” said panel member Mary H. McGrath, MD, professor of surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. The main alternative to texturing for stabilizing implants is to wrap them in place using surgical mesh, but that approach may also cause problems.

“Instead of just taking textured implants off the market, we need to also look at their advantages. A critical issue is informed consent,” said panel member Marc E. Lippman, MD, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University, Washington. Banning smooth implants based on what’s known so far “would be an extraordinary over reaction,” he said during the first day’s session.

Current U.S. anecdotal experience suggests that a ban may not even be necessary because “plastic surgeons are more and more walking away from textured implants” because of the apparent link to BIA-ALCL, Dr. McGrath said.

BII has been a more recent and more controversial complication of breast implants. As recently as September 2018, Dr. Ashar said in a written statement that “the agency continues to believe that the weight of the currently available scientific evidence does not conclusively demonstrate an association between breast implants and connective tissue diseases,” the types of symptoms that characterize BII.

While the panel heard no new, conclusive evidence of a causal link between breast implants and the range of symptoms that some implant recipients report and is now collectively known as BII, several participants seemed convinced that the syndrome was real and needed better surveillance and study.

“It’s in the same family as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. It’s not a diagnosis, but a set of symptoms.” said Benjamin O. Anderson, MD, a surgical oncologist and professor of surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle and a panel member. “It’s a giant challenge. BII is a constellation of difficult symptoms. We need to think about how we ask patients, what are your symptoms?”

Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Frank R. Lewis Jr.

Frank R. Lewis Jr., MD, committee chair, said a more standardized measure of the most common BII symptoms is needed. “That may be exceedingly difficult, with as many as a hundred reported symptoms,” said Dr. Lewis, executive director, emeritus, of the American Board of Surgery in Philadelphia.

The hearing featured results from some of the most research projects aimed at fleshing out an understanding of BII.

Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the National Center for Health Research, reported data she and her associates collected in an online survey completed in late 2018 and early 2019 by 449 women who had approached the Center for help in getting health insurance coverage for medically-necessary explantation of their breast implants.

Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Diana Zuckerman

Their most common symptoms included joint, muscle or back pain, weakness or stiffness; fatigue; “brain fog;” and anxiety and depression. More than two-thirds of the respondents had a family history and 3% had a personal history of an autoimmune disease, and 61% said their symptoms improved after their implants were removed, Dr. Zuckerman reported during her presentation to the panel.

During the discussion, panel members seemed intent on expanding mandatory, routine surveillance to all breast implants placed in U.S. practice.

Andrea L. Pusic, MD, president of the Plastic Surgery Foundation, summarized the recent launch of the National Breast Implant Registry by the Foundation and its parent organization, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. These organizations, and plastic surgeons in general, would be amenable to collecting the data the FDA deemed necessary to better track BIA-ALCL and BII, said Dr. Pusic, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“Plastic surgeons are willing to enter these data because we know they are important,” she told the FDA panel.

Dr. Ashar, Dr. Clemens, Dr. McGrath, Dr. Lippman, Dr. Anderson, Dr. Lewis, Dr. Zuckerman, and Dr. Pusic reported having no relevant commercial disclosures.

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