Another Study Clears Silicone Breast Implants

They're still a big risk, says panel, but not a cause of killer diseases.

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The legal repercussions of failed silicone breast implants may not be over, but the medical studies are becoming increasingly consistent. The latest, released on Monday by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms the emerging consensus: Medical evidence does not support the contention that silicone breast implants cause major life-threatening diseases. After holding hearings and reviewing the thousands of research reports on the subject, an institute panel concluded that no link exists between the implants and such diseases. But that is not to say, the panel cautioned, that silicone implants are risk-free. The implants can contract or rupture and these developments can lead to scarring, infection and pain.

"The institute report is not entirely surprising," says TIME senior science writer Michael Lemonick. "Several months ago, an advisory panel of experts called by the federal judge who is overseeing a large number of the implant lawsuits reported similar findings." In medicine, no single report is definitive, says Lemonick, but there have now been several that have come down on the same side. Silicone implants have been banned by the FDA since 1992, and the latest report will not change that. But the report could have an effect on the ongoing litigation that still pits many of the 2 million implant recipients against the manufacturers. A $3.2 billion settlement plan involving Dow Corning, for one, is still awaiting final judicial approval. A company official said the company remained committed to the deal.