PARIS—France and Britain issued conflicting advice on Friday to tens of thousands of women with breast implants made of cheap industrial silicone that some fear pose health risks.
The French government urged 30,000 women in France to seek removal of the implants, made by now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), because of the danger they could rupture and cause inflammation and irritation. There was no evidence of any increased cancer risk, it said.
But in Britain, where an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 women are affected, Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said: "Women with PIP implants should not be unduly worried. We have no evidence of a link to cancer or an increased risk of rupture. If women are concerned they should speak to their surgeon."
Removing implants "carries risks in itself," she said.
"I do think that every woman who has these implants should go and get checked ... It's better to have them replaced than to worry about them rupturing," said British woman Pat Demetriou, who had faulty PIP implants removed in 2010.
Nigel Mercer of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons said the French move was "certainly not unreasonable" while British cosmetic surgeon Kevin Hancock said the divergent government responses would cause distress for British women.
Concerns in France first surfaced about two years ago when surgeons started reporting abnormally high rupture rates, leading to a flood of legal complaints, the company's bankruptcy and a scandal that has spread across the world.
Founded by Jean-Claude Mas - who was formerly a butcher, according to a surgeon who knew him - PIP produced about 100,000 implants a year for the best part of two decades before its products were ordered off the market in early 2010.
As many as 300,000 women worldwide may have received the gel products, used to enhance breast size or repair lost tissue. They were exported to Latin American countries such as Brazil and Argentina, and Western European markets including Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Australia's healthcare watchdog says about 8,900 of the implants were used in women there, some of whom had complained about splitting and leaking.
Germany's medical safety board advised women with PIP implants to consult their doctors for checks, but stopped short of recommending their removal.
PIP recognizes that its products were defective but argues that it is being unduly singled out, the company's lawyer said.
"The implants had flaws but the PIP implants are not the only ones on the market that had problems," lawyer Yves Haddad told Reuters. "The reality is that everyone who makes implants has a percentage of failures."
According to him, company founder Mas, 72, is in France but does not intend to make public comment.
In a statement addressed to French women, the health ministry said public healthcare funds would be used to finance the recommended implant removals, at a cost estimated at 60 million euros ($78 million).
New implants would be paid for in cases where the initial implant was inserted for medical reasons, typically for reconstruction after breast cancer treatment.
Associations representing women with PIP implants have been demanding that all replacements, including cases of implants that were purely cosmetic, be publicly funded.
"This announcement is just a smokescreen and the victims of PIP are angry," said Alexandra Blachere, head of the association of PIP implant users in France. "PIP implants are dangerous even excluding cancer. The state can't simply order them to be removed and then leave women to get by afterwards."