CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Extreme pain, trouble breathing, relentless fatigue and the frightening risk of cancer.
Thousands of women said they have experienced debilitating health conditions because of breast implants.
Channel 9’s Allison Latos spent weeks investigating the urgent concerns now getting the attention of local surgeons and the Federal Drug Administration.
Lynn Milam said she spent most of her life dangerously overweight until she had gastric bypass surgery.
After losing 125 pounds, Milam had cosmetic surgery, including breast implants.
Five years later, she said her health deteriorated with back pain and shortness of breath that escalated to crippling conditions.
“My chest pain was so severe my doctor sent me in for a cardiac workup. They literally thought I was going to have a heart attack,” she said.
Despite many tests, Milam said her doctors could not determine why she was so sick.
It was like I had swallowed gasoline and it had been lit on the inside,” said Milam. “They were poisoning me.”
Milam was desperate for answers until an emergency room doctor suggested she research breast implant illness.
Breast implant illness symptoms:
- autoimmune diseases
- cognitive issues
- extreme fatigue
The medical community doesn’t recognize it as an officially diagnosable disease, but thousands of women claim implants caused chronic ailments like autoimmune diseases, cognitive issues and extreme fatigue.
Ryan Hayes told Latos she regrets her decision 10 years ago to get implants.
“I was competing in fitness competitions and I felt like I needed that to feel more womanly I guess,” said Hayes.
As she looked at pictures of herself she told Latos, “What you saw on the outside is not how I was feeling on the inside.”
Hayes said she couldn’t think straight and developed unbearable joint pain and swelling.
“There were days when I just wanted them to find something wrong with me, so I could fix it," she said.
Doctors diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis, but the treatment for that didn’t help.
Health issues associated with breast implants are a growing concern among doctors at HKB Cosmetic Surgery in Huntersville. They worry implants may be causing a type of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or ALCL.
The FDA identified a possible connection between breast implants and cancer eight years ago.
“If it is ignored, it has the propensity, or the possibility of spreading or becoming metastatic and that can be life-ending,” said Dr. Gaurav Bharti.
Bharti said the cancer is most often associated with textured implants that could cause chronic inflammation and bacteria.
According to Bharti, the textured implant leads to more bacteria because there is more surface area.
The FDA is now taking a closer look at the safety of breast implants and pushing for clearer information on the exact risks to patients.
“I would have never taken the risk to put something in my body that could potentially cause me cancer,” said Milam.
Milam and Hayes both had their implants removed. Once removed, Hayes said that’s when she learned one of them had ruptured.
Both women said their health immediately improved and they want other women to hear their stories.
“I know there are more women like me out there, and if I could just reach one more person,” said Milam.
An FDA panel met last week to discuss breast implant risks, but did not move to pull any of them from the market.
The agency recently issued warning letters against two breast implant manufacturers for not conducting required long-term studies on their safety and risks.
Surgeons told Channel 9 anyone who notices a sudden onset of swelling or pain should see a doctor.
© 2019 Cox Media Group.