Deflating Hysteria: Implant Scare of Early '90s Had No Merit

As artificial as a breast augmentation surgery itself, the media's hype over dangers from silicone breast implants has been pretty much debunked by over a decade of scientific review. But that hasn't prompted the media to admit to and deflate the unfounded fears it blew up 16 years ago. From my colleague Julia Seymour's BMI newsletter article.

The FDA has put silicone breast implants back on the market. But journalists, who hyped the implants’ dangers more than a decade ago, have shown they’re not convinced.

“Given the history of this product, I think a lot of people are going to have a hard time with the government blessing for this particular product, being a foreign substance being sewn inside the bodies of women,” said NBC anchor Brian Williams on the Nov. 17, 2006, “Nightly News.”

Some will disagree with the FDA decision, especially if they listened solely to the biased media coverage of the implants during the early 1990s as fears first arose about their safety. But others have said science has finally won the debate on silicone breast implants.

In a recent article, Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical and executive director of the American Council on Science and Health, described the FDA’s decision as a “welcome development to those of us who believe that regulatory decisions should be based on science, rather than activist hype.”

Throughout the early 1990s, media hyped the unproven dangers of implants by including dramatic examples, not identifying activists, and excluding relevant opinions. In 1992, FDA banned the implants except in controlled studies so that their safety could be examined. Years later, multiple scientific studies would show no connection between cancer and autoimmune diseases and the implants.

One of the most memorable one-sided stories was a segment on CBS’s “Face to Face with Connie Chung,” which warned only of dangers during a Dec. 10, 1990, broadcast. “But what’s shocking,” Chung warned, “is that these devices have never been approved by the federal government. Only now is the government looking at the dangers. But for some women, it may be too late.”

The segment included four women who believed their medical problems stemmed from their silicone implants and one doctor who agreed with them.


Chung’s story did not include anyone satisfied with silicone implants, despite the fact that 2 million women had breast implants at that time, including many who had reconstruction after a mastectomy. The story also left out any doctors who disagreed with Dr. Shanklin, or representatives of the implant manufacturers.