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Women with implants facing a tough decision

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Kathy Harden worries about the safety of her silicone gel-filled breast implants _ but not enough to have them removed.

"If I had had problems, I'd be more scared," said Harden, 33, who had her breasts enlarged five years ago.

"Another close friend has had them even longer than me, and we were talking about it the other day," she said. "And I said, "Until I hear everything that comes out, I'm not going to worry about it. I'm not going to panic until I have all the facts.' "

That attitude seems to be typical of women who have not had health problems they suspect are implant-related, and doctors say these women make up a majority of the estimated 1-million women in the United States with implants.

The future of cosmetic breast implant surgery was put in doubt after a panel recommended Thursday that the government severely restrict use of the devices for breast enlargement, allowing easiest access for women needing reconstructive surgery.

"It's a very, very awful, painful time for women who know they have to lose their breast," said Sheila Propheter, a San Francisco Bay area psychotherapist who counsels breast cancer patients. She lost one breast to cancer in 1976 and has had her silicone implant replaced twice since then.

She hears anger and anxiety from women she talks to, none of whom have suffered the severe autoimmune diseases that some women blame on their implants.

"Frankly, I think there's still a lot of disbelief," Propheter said. "I have women calling saying, "I'm getting madder, madder and madder about this.' "

Propheter said one woman chose a lumpectomy, a procedure to remove only the cancerous tumor, rather than the mastectomy recommended by her doctor because she feared she could not have reconstruction.

Another woman, Betty Graffe, 47, had her silicone breast implants removed three weeks ago. Her implants were 18 years old and brittle as eggshells.

"The bottom line was, it was important for me to have them out," said Graffe, who feared that her implants were related to a blood disorder. "I have no regrets. I acted responsibly."

"My hope is, I'll be healed well _ and my body will be able to tolerate these," she said, referring to the saline-filled implants that replaced the silicone ones.