Venezuelan women, with breast implants made by the French company Poly Implant Prothese, can now have a surgery to remove the damaged implants out at no cost.

Health Minister Eugenia Sader said women with implants made by the now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese may go to hospitals that carry out plastic surgery to have the implants removed, the state-run Venezuelan News Agency reported.

Sader said Tuesday that the free procedure will simply be to remove the implants and will not include replacing them.

"Those patients are running a risk," Sader said. However, she said, women need not seek emergency care and instead may visit hospitals at their convenience.

France's health system has recommended that women with the PIP implants get them replaced, and has agreed to pay for surgeries. In Brazil and Argentina, however, health officials just recommend checkups.

It's unclear how many women have the PIP implants in Venezuela, where breast enlargement surgery is popular and doctors say the French implants used to be widely used.

An estimated 35,000 to 40,000 women in the country have breast enlargement surgery each year, said Dr. Marisol Graterol, president of the Venezuelan Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has criticized the widespread popularity of breast surgery, saying women shouldn't be sold on an image that big bosoms are attractive.

The plastic surgery society recommended last week that women with PIP breast implants see a doctor to have them checked. Graterol said doctors should decide depending on each patient's situation whether or not the implants need to be removed.

Sales of PIP implants were halted in Venezuela in April 2010, Graterol said.
Plastic surgeon Dr. Henry Saud said he removed ruptured PIP implants from more than 10 patients during the past year.

In some cases, his patients hadn't noticed anything wrong and the leaking implants were detected during imaging exams, Saud said. In other cases, "they felt discomfort and had swelling."

"It used to be one of the most-used brands," Saud said. Most of the women opted to replace the PIP implants with those of other brands, he said.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press

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