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DOCTOR PANEL CALLS BREAST IMPLANTS SAFE

A panel of doctors assembled by a plastic surgeons' group assured women Saturday that silicone-gel breast implants are safe and suggested some ailments cited by users might be associated with normal aging.

The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons Inc. produced a two-hour teleconference seen in 28 cities in which eight doctors - one a woman - said too much remains uncertain to blame the implants for health problems."There is very little evidence that it (silicone) causes some adverse effects or diseases," said Dr. Charles Balch, head of the division of surgery, University of Texas, M.S. Anderson Cancer Center.

Dr. Jack Fisher, professor and head of plastic surgery at the University of California-San Diego, said silicone that might "bleed" from an implant would be less than a diabetes patient gets from insulin, which contains silicone.

The group spent an hour discussing health and safety issues and reviewed the Feb. 20 recommendation by a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel - which included three of eight doctors on the conference - to restrict implant use.

Although the FDA panel rejected an outright ban or unlimited availability, it voted unanimously to allow implants only for women with cancer disfigurement or other inherited defects until further studies are completed.

A moratorium on silicone implantation took effect Jan. 6 after reports surfaced about possible connections between the implants and such diseases as lupus, scleroderma and arthritis.

Plastic surgeons stressed self-examination and close contact with a doctor, and strongly advised against frequent mammograms or ultrasound exams, which they said are not reliable for detecting problems with implants. Women under 35 should avoid mammograms, except for a single picture to be used later for comparison, they said.

Women with implants should insist on special mammograms known as compression exams that guarantee a clear picture of breast tissue, said Dr. James Potchen, chairman of radiology at Michigan State University.

They all agreed implants would not last forever and need special care.