Alar Redux: Hollywood Peddles Shaky Science Once Again

You remember the Alar Scare — when Hollywood actress Meryl Streep, an environmental group peddling junk science and an irresponsibly biased interview by CBS’s 60 Minutes caused panicky parents all over America to stop buying apples. Apple growers lost at least $450 million. Some families that had owned orchards for generations lost them to foreclosure. U.S. taxpayers lost at least $15 million. It was all for nothing.

Brace yourself for the sequel, as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) this week dips once again into the entertainment industry talent pool. For this production, the guest stars are talk show host Jenny Jones and actress Mary McDonough (“The Waltons”). The plot involves breast implants. The stage is a press conference at the U.S. Senate, where Senator Boxer and her allies will call for spending taxpayer dollars to once again try to find a connection between silicone breast implants and connective tissue and other diseases.

“Over one million women have silicone breast implants,” says Senator Boxer, making her case for diverting taxpayer monies from other projects to study silicone once again. “Thousands and thousands are ill.”

Perhaps. But millions of women also wear shoes, and thousands of these women are ill. Perhaps the nation should study shoes: A shoe study would at least have the virtue of treading new ground. Silicon has been studied, and studied, and studied.

In June 1995, the New England Journal of Medicine published a peer-reviewed study of 87,501 nurses that found “no association between silicone breast implants and connective tissue diseases, according to a variety of standardized criteria.” Dr. Marcia Angell, executive editor of the journal and the author of a book on implant risk told a National Press Club audience in September 1997: “Any link between breast implants and a variety of systemic diseases is very small, if it exists at all.”

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 1994 concluding, “We found no association between breast implants and the connective-tissue diseases and other disorders that were studied.”

A study of 10,000 women conducted by the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February 1996 found that silicone breast implants do not pose a large risk of causing connective tissue diseases. The lead author, Dr. Charles Hennekens, reported: “Considering all available evidence, women with breast implants should be reassured that there is no large risk of connective tissue disease.”

A study of 1,601 women at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada showed no increased levels of autoantibodies among women with implants. Autoantibodies are present in connective tissue diseases. The study was endorsed by he American College of Rheumatology.

Another study endorsed by the American College of Rheumatology, a University of Kansas study of 2,304 women, showed that women with implants are not more likely to develop fibromyalgia (muscle aches and stiffness) or rheumatoid arthritis (pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints) than are women in the general population.

A long-term Danish Cancer Society study of 11,023 women published in the July 1997 issue of the Annals of Plastic Surgery found no statistically “significant excess of definite connective-tissue disease” between women with implants and those without.

A 1993 study at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center concluded, “The incidence of autoimmune disease in mastectomy patients receiving silicone gel implants is not different than in patients who had reconstruction with autogenous tissue.”

A review of implant studies published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by researchers with the Food and Drug Administration and the National Cancer Institute and released in September 1997 found that women with breast implants are not at increased risk for breast cancer. Co-author S. Lori Brown of the FDA said, “We found that, if anything, implants may actually decrease the risk of breast cancer. The studies are quite consistent in finding a decrease.”

An article, “A Status Report on Breast Implant Safety,” in the November 1995 issue of the Food and Drug Administration’s FDA Consumer began: “Recently published studies have shown that women with silicone gel-filled breast implants do not have a greatly increased risk of some well-defined autoimmune diseases, which were among the serious health concerns surrounding the devices. These include potentially fatal connective tissue diseases such as scleroderma and lupus erythematosus.”

A study released September 1997 by the Western Journal of Medicine found no evidence linking silicone breast implants with connective tissue diseases.

The British Department of Health announced its conclusion in 1995 that that none of the studies it has reviewed “demonstrated that the coexistence of connective tissue disease with silicone gel breast implants is any more prevalent that would be expected by chance.”

A 1992 study by the University of Washington Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found no “increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis among women with silicone breast implants.”

In addition, two Congressionally-mandated studies already are underway — one at the National Cancer Institute and one at the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences. Do we really need another federal study on breasy implants?

In a perfect world, money would be limitless and all medical issues could be studied indefinitely. But this is not a perfect world. Studies of silicone breast implants have to compete for funding with research on cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and many other maladies that cause far more human suffering than silicone breast implants ever did. Pleas from Hollywood notwithstanding, medical research money should be spent where it can do the most good.

Amy Ridenour is Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.