Metal hips may be bigger problem than leaking breast implants

Failing metal hip implants may cause problems for more people than the toxin-leaking breast implants circulating in Europe, according to an investigation launched by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC).

Europe is currently uncovering shocking news about a type of breast implant made by French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) that was made with non-medical-grade silicone. The implants have an increased risk of rupture. Once the gel is released, it can cause inflammation in the surrounding tissue. Some speculate that the gel may also put women at greater risk for developing cancer. An estimated 400,000 women in 65 countries are believed to have been given the PIP implants.

But the BMJ and the BBC say the problems caused by metal-on-metal hip implants may be even greater. These artificial hips were designed with all-metal parts to be more durable than traditional ceramic or plastic implants. However, the devices were failing at a higher than expected rate. Hip implants can last 15-plus years, but the newer, metal-on-metal implants were breaking down just a few years after being implanted.

The source of the problem was unexpected. As the metal ball rubbed against the metal socket of the implant, bits of metal debris began to fall into the joint space, often causing inflammation and pain. This swelling aggravated the implant, speeding up the failure rate. In some cases, the bits of cobalt and chromium that fell into the joint space began leaking into the bloodstream, causing a type of blood poisoning known as metallosis. Once in the bloodstream, these metals can spread into the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and kidneys. The problems associated with metallosis are as yet unknown but some doctors say it could increase the risk of cancer.

The BMJ and BBC estimate that “hundreds of thousands of people globally” have these metal hip  implants and could be exposed to these dangerous metal ions. Both the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the European Union (EU) are conducting investigations into the safety of the metal-on-metal hip devices, and have ordered makers of the devices to report any complications associated with them.

The Atlantic