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Breast implant debate before FDA panel

The debate over silicone breast implants will continue this week as all sides argue their case before a government panel investigating whether the devices are safe enough to be permitted for sale.

Dr. David Kessler, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, had called for a moratorium on implant sales in January and recently recovened the panel to consider more allegations of health problems caused by the implants.

He said the experts should take another look at their recommendation made in November that breast-enlarging implants should continue to be available to women while more safety studies were done.

For three days the panel will hear from all involved _ women for and against, plastic surgeons, medical societies, manufacturers, government scientists and specialists in the autoimmune diseases some women have linked to the implants.

Plastic surgeons and one manufacturer, McGhan Medical Corp., have charged that Kessler and panel members are biased against the devices.

About 2-million American women have had implant surgery to enlarge their breasts for cosmetic reasons or to reconstruct damaged tissue after cancer.

The issue has sharply divided women. While most patients have been satisfied, some women have blamed the implants for illnesses associated with the immune system such as arthritic joint pain and schleroderma, a disease of the skin and connective tissue.

Although they have been used for almost three decades, it was not until 1976 that the federal agency was authorized to regulate medical devices implanted in the body.

It has taken since then for the FDA to near a final decision on whether the implants are safe and effective and should be authorized for sale.