A cancer-causing chemical has been found in the milk of a nursing mother who had breast implants covered with polyurethane foam, a scientist said Saturday. The amount of the carcinogen, toluene diamene or TDA, found in the woman was extremely small and was not likely to pose a health threat to her infant, said the scientist, Dr. David Black of Vanderbilt University, who was hired by the implant manufacturer to look for traces of TDA in the body.
Although traces of TDA have been found in only one case of breast milk, Black said he thought it was likely that other women with implants also might have the chemical in their milk.
But he emphasized that any hazard to infants from TDA was minor, saying nursing mothers exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke passed on a greater amount of carcinogens to their breast-fed babies.
The real issue for women, he said, may be the emotional stress that comes from knowing a potentially harmful chemical may be passing from them to their baby. "TDA contaminates a natural process," he said.
The manufacturer, Surgitek Corp., a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers Squibb, immediately disputed Black's findings, saying that his method of analyzing the milk created the TDA artificially and that the implants posed no hazard to nursing mothers or their babies.
"We disagree with his testing procedure," said Jonathan Weisberg, a company spokesman. "We have submitted data about this to the FDA and we remain confident in the safety of polyurethane foam-covered breast implants."
Black, a toxicologist who is also president of Aegis Analytical Corp., a drug testing company in Nashville, Tenn., said Bristol-Myers had no evidence to support its criticism of his methods.
The chemical has been linked to cancer in laboratory animals, but eating it is not thought to pose as much of a risk as having it implanted into the body, Black said.
Efforts to reach Food and Drug Administration officials for comment were unsuccessful.
About 200,000 of the 2-million American women who have had breast implants have implants covered with the polyurethane foam. It is not known how many of them have breast-fed their babies, but many are of childbearing age.
Surgitek voluntarily withdrew its products, known as the Meme, Optimene and Replicon implants, from the market in April after questions about TDA were raised in the media. As part of its effort to submit safety data to the FDA, Surgitek hired Black to develop a method to look for TDA in urine and milk.
The finding about breast milk began to circulate among critics of polyurethane-foam implants late last week. "The word was out," said Sibyl Goldrich, founder of Command Trust Network, a group devoted to the problems of implant patients. "We kept waiting for the FDA to announce something, but they never did."