Double Dose: Breast Implants and Illnesses; Lawsuit Over Ortho Evra Birth Control Patch; Abortion Has Left the Classroom; Aging and Quality of Life; Mothers Movement Online; Digital Mammograms Lead to More Call-Backs; Razor Blades and Inner Goddeses

By Christine Cupaiuolo — April 12, 2008

Dumb Quote of the Week: “Eighteen is certainly an age where we’re putting men and women in uniform on a battlefield … I think they can decide if they want larger breasts.” — Dr. Alan Gold, a Great Neck, N.Y., plastic surgeon, as quoted in this Newsday story on breast implants.

The story notes that “according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of women 18 and younger who have had breast enlargements has risen nearly 500 percent over the last decade, a sharper climb than the 300 percent increase in breast augmentations among all age groups,” but it doesn’t cover the health risks except to note the recent death of Stephanie Kuleba, 18, of South Florida, who died of what may have been a rare genetic reaction to general anesthesia given during breast-augmentation surgery.

It does, however, include this important point:

Traci Levy, an assistant professor who teaches courses in feminism and gender studies at Adelphi University, said the growing perception that it’s a common procedure, along with ads for plastic surgery, may contribute to its popularity.

“To say that you need to have a very expensive surgical procedure with real health risks in order to be considered beautiful, I think, is a problematic image,” she said.

Plus: Kacey, who got breast implants when she was 19 and tells her story at, blogged recently at Beauty and the Breast about the illnesses she experienced (and is still experiencing) that she believes are linked to her implants.

Kacey was a recent guest on Fox’s “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet,” and she wrote that another guest — an 18-year-old who wants breast implants — commented off-stage, “They’re just breast implants. It’s just like getting your hair cut!”

“I just got my hair cut – no scalpels, drains, anesthesia, surgeons or nurses necessary,” writes Kacey. “I will never wonder if my hair cut will cause joint pain. Can anyone say the same about breast implants?”

Aging Among the Haves and Have-Nots: “Seniors are living longer, healthier and more financially secure than past generations, according to a federal report released by several government agencies last month. But large disparities separate the quality of life for seniors of different genders, ethnicities, education levels and incomes,” reports the Ventura County Star, which headlines the story with this statistic: 71,500,000 Americans will be 65 and older in 2030, compared with 37 million people in 2006.

Plus: Read more on The Older Americans 2008 study, released by the National Institute on Aging.

Behind a Legal Shield: Here’s an extremely frustrating legal story concerning the Ortho Evra birth control patch, as reported by The New York Times:

For years, Johnson & Johnson obscured evidence that its popular Ortho Evra birth control patch delivered much more estrogen than standard birth control pills, potentially increasing the risk of blood clots and strokes, according to internal company documents.

But because the Food and Drug Administration approved the patch, the company is arguing in court that it cannot be sued by women who claim that they were injured by the product — even though its old label inaccurately described the amount of estrogen it released.

This legal argument is called pre-emption. After decades of being dismissed by courts, the tactic now appears to be on the verge of success, lawyers for plaintiffs and drug companies say.

Naturally, the Bush administration backs this doctrine. Read the whole story. And here’s a powerful op-ed on FDA oversight.

Abortion Has Left the Classroom: RH Reality Check has an excellent package of stories on the shortage of abortion doctors, all written by members of Medical Students for Choice.

“As recently as six or seven years ago, abortion was included in my medical school’s curriculum, but no longer,” writes Louisa Pyle, adding:

Medical school is, in many ways, a language school. Someone told me once that a medical student learns over 20,000 new words in their first two years of school, and in addition to the new vocabulary, I soon became capable of saying things over dinner that one should never say. “Rectum” no longer induces giggles and “vagina” is boring, not sexy or empowering. And yet, the word “abortion” is still said with a pause, a nod, a little quieter than the rest of the sentence. I’m happy when we talk about it at all: for me, the problem is the deafening silence. That a procedure more common than an appendectomy would never be named: In the halls of science and healthcare, that to me is an abomination.

Nicole Wolverston writes about the work of Medical Students for Choice. Jalan Washington, who is also a member of Advocates for Youth, writes about her frustration since starting medical school “with the lack of widespread action to address many of the educational, social, and economic determinants of health.”

“Hearing bleak statistics about Black and Latino health is a commonplace, routinely accepted, and unquestioned part of the American medical landscape. Very seldom do our discussions then proceed to the ways in which health care providers and the medical infrastructure directly contribute to these trends,” she writes.

Mothers Movement Online: The most recent issue of Mothers Movement Online is the pregnancy and childbirth issue. Included among the engaging and informative essays is an interview with OBOS executive director Judy Norsigian.

MMO Editor Judith Stadtman Tucker (read her editor’s notes) is a contributor to the new OBOS book on pregnancy and birth, specifically the section on advocating for the workplace rights of pregnant and parenting women.

In Shift to Digital, More Repeat Mammogram: As doctors learn to interpret digital mammograms, they are more likely to request second tests, reports The New York Times. Denise Grady writes:

At many centers, these nerve-racking calls are on the rise, at least temporarily — the price of progress as more and more radiologists switch from traditional X-ray film to digital mammograms, in which the X-ray images are displayed on a computer monitor.

Problems can arise during the transition period, while doctors learn to interpret digital mammograms and compare them to patients’ previous X-ray films. Comparing past and present to look for changes is an essential part of reading mammograms. But the digital and film versions can sometimes be hard to reconcile, and radiologists who are retraining their eyes and minds may be more likely to play it safe by requesting additional X-rays — and sometimes ultrasound exams and even biopsies — in women who turn out not to have breast cancer.

Over at Well, Tara Parker Pope put up pictures showing the difference between a normal digital mammogram and a normal mammogram from traditional X-ray film.

Plus: Here’s a brief but important post from the L.A. Times health blog on how MRIs may affect breast cancer treatment decisions.

Estrogen Linked to Benign Breast Lumps: “Add another risk to hormone therapy after menopause: Benign breast lumps,” reports the AP. A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute re-examines data from the Women’s Health Initiative pertaining to women who took estrogen only (women who had hysterectomies) instead of the estrogen-progestin combination hormone therapy.

Those estrogen-only users doubled their chances of getting non-cancerous breast lumps. That’s a concern not only because of the extra biopsies and worry those lumps cause, but because a particular type — called benign proliferative breast disease — is suspected of being a first step toward developing cancer 10 years or so later.

Razor Blades and Inner Goddesses – Get the Connection?: I missed this story about the latest in razor blade technology when it first came out, but it’s worth noting if only for the silly take on how shaving razors are marketed to women. The piece looks at the new advertising campaign around the Gillette Venus Embrace, which turns users into deities. (Any readers feeling transformed? Do tell.)

“Now we’ve given women the permission to reveal her own goddess,” said Gro Frivoll, who has worked on the Venus account at BBDO for eight years. “Every woman can be the goddess of something, because this allows you to be your most feminine self.”

Ack. Read on and the message is less, um, smooth:

When Gillette pitches razors to men, it tends to emphasize technological innovations. But on the women’s side, “we focus more on the emotional end benefits,” Ms. Frivoll said. ‘Men want to know, What am I paying more for? If a man were paying $25 for lipstick, it would have to have more than the Chanel name on it.”

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