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Plastic Surgeons Trivialize Cancer in Implant Patients, Group Says

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, February 18, 2011

Several weeks after reports that unusual cases of lymphoma have been detected in 34 U.S. women with breast implants, two plastic surgeon organizations urged their members to inaccurately "trivialize" or "play down the risks" to their patients, charges the Public Citizen Health Research Group.

The group's director, Sidney Wolfe, MD, urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Thursday to "require them to stop such activities," because they are "misleading, dangerous and unethical."

In his letter to the FDA, Wolfe said that during a Feb. 3 webinar sponsored by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the groups advised doctors to respond to reports about anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or ALCL, in patients who have had breast implants, saying that the diagnosis is a "condition," not a cancer or a malignancy.

ASPS president Phil Haeck, was alleged to have "essentially urged members to inaccurately downplay the significance of recent evidence about the risks of breast implant-related cancer when speaking to female patients," Wolfe wrote in his letter.

Wolfe wrote that in the webinar, Haeck made the following statement:

“[Y]es it’s classically a malignant tumor, but it has such a benign course that when we were discussing ways to talk to the media we decided that we would call this a condition when we talked to the media, not a tumor, not a disease and certainly not a malignancy.

"Um, because, and I would recommend that you use the same terms with your patients rather than disturb them by saying this is a cancer, this is a malignancy. The best word is this is a condition. If you develop this condition here’s how we are going to treat it, the way we are going to diagnose this condition is this, and that’s very reassuring when you are using that word and not using the word cancer or malignancy. And I think you are certainly justified, with what we know now, in downplaying the malignant potential of these.”

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