New Advice On Breast Implants

After seven years of heated debate, one of the most prestigious scientific bodies in the world has concluded there is no "no definitive evidence linking breast implants to cancer, immunologic diseases, neurological problems or other systemic diseases."

A committee appointed by the Institute of Medicine, the government-funded medical arm of the National Academy of Sciences, says a careful study of all the evidence indicates that women with silicone breast implants are not more likely to develop chronic disease than women without the implants.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the silicones used in transplants are toxic to humans," the committee said in a statement.

"Although studies do not show a risk of life-threatening illness from silicone breast implants, it is clear that they can cause serious problems," added Dr. Stuart Bondurant of the University of North Carolina, who chaired the committee.

The finding was applauded by former implant maker Dow Corning, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts. But the company said it would live up to its $3.2 billion settlement with women who claimed they were harmed by breast implants.

Earlier this month, some of the claimants approved a Chapter 11 bankruptcy court reorganization plan for Dow Corning. It was called for in an agreement reached last year with a committee representing about 176,000 women for the settlement.

"The speed of litigation is clearly faster than the speed of science," says Barbara Carmichael of Dow Corning. "Sound science takes time."

In issuing its report, the Institute conducted no new research, but reviewed more than 3,000 studies that overwhelmingly showed no link between breast implants and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

"There should be some alleviation of anxiety on the part of women who do have implants at this time," says Dr. Margit Bleeker of the Institute of Medicine.

But advocacy groups for women with breast implants aren't buying the findings.

"I don't think any woman who has had breast implants is ever out of the woods as far as autoimmune diseases go," says Sybil Goldrich of Command Trust Network.

The implants, the report says, aren't without health risks. The panel found they caused frequent complications -- including rupture and deflation, hardening of the tissue around the implant, and a risk for infection.

"Those local complications are very real, very painful, very disfiguring," says Bondurant. "And they are more prevalent than previously, widely understood."

Even with all its research, the Institute of Medicine admits, this isn't the final word on breast implants. We may come closer to that with a study of more than 13,000 women by the National Cancer Institute, the first results of which will be known later this year.