By Kim Smiley
Thousands of women received faulty breast implants between 2001 and 2010. These implants contain substandard silicone, not approved for medical use, and are also rupturing at a usually high rate. It isn’t clear at this time what the long term health risks associated with these implants might be. The faulty implants were manufactured in France, but eighty percent were exported so the wide spread nature of the problem also complicates the implementation of any possible solutions. (These implants were not sold in the US.)
This issue can be investigated by building a Cause Map, an intuitive, visual root cause analysis. A Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions to determine what causes contributed to an issue. In this example, women are facing health risks because they received faulty breast implants. The implants are considered faulty because they are filled with substandard, non-medical grade silicone and they are rupturing at twice the industrial average.
The implants were filled with industrial grade silicone, instead of medical grade, because industrial grade silicon is far less expensive and the company was trying to cut costs. Hundreds of thousands of these implants were manufactured before any quality issues were raised so inadequate oversight should also be considered as a potential cause. It isn’t clear why the implants are rupturing at an unusually high rate at this time, but that information can be added to the Cause Map once it is available.
The long term health consequences of this issue also aren’t clear yet. The substandard silicone used may have impurities in it that could pose a health risk in addition to any health effects that result from the ruptured implants in general. There are concerns that the implants are increasing the risk of breast cancer, but there isn’t any hard evidence that this is the case at this point. All the countries involved are struggling to weigh the known risks of removing the implants with the unknown risks of leaving them in place. There is also the question of costs and who will pay for removal or replacement of the faulty implants. Ongoing monitoring for signs of leakage and ruptures are recommended for any woman who chooses to keep the implants.