The recall of a medical device that left particles of tungsten in women’s breasts has been classified as the most serious type of recall, one involving “situations in which there is a reasonable probability that use of these products will cause serious adverse health consequences or death,” the Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday. The device, the Axxent FlexiShield Mini, was a pad made of tungsten and silicone rubber that was temporarily placed inside breast incisions during an unusual procedure in which women were given an entire course of radiation treatment in one dose after undergoing a lumpectomy for cancer. The pads were used to help direct the radiation beam and shield healthy tissue. But the pads were flawed, and left the breast tissue and chest muscles riddled with hundreds of tungsten particles. It is not known if tungsten is dangerous because relatively little research has been done on its long-term health effects in humans. But it shows up on mammograms and may make them difficult to read, especially troubling for women who have had breast cancer and worry about recurrences. The metal particles resemble calcium deposits, which can indicate cancer.
It is at least a bit ironic that a device intended to shield women from radiation (and future cancer risk) may potentially later make breast cancer harder to find, but that appears to be the case here. Sometimes there are negative consequences to new “breakthrough” treatments. According to this report, 27 of the affected women were treated at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach.
John Di Saia MD