by Tene Croom

Carol Ciancutti-Leyva remains relentless in raising this question to the masses: are silicone/saline breast implants absolutely safe? She dives deep into that very subject in a documentary aptly titled, “Absolutely Safe.”

ETAH ORGANIZERS—Authors and organizers of the conference, from left: Joy Maxberry Woodruff; Carol Ciancutti-Leyva; Audrey Ciancutti; Albertha Graham-Ellison, co-chair ETAH; Kezia L. Ellison, co-chair ETAH; and Judy Norsigian, co-author of “Our Bodies, Ourselve.” (Photo by Tene Croom)

Ciancutti-Leyva directed and produced the film. She spent a decade documenting the issue and believes, as her website states, doctors should be required by law to inform their patients about the proven risks.

She was the special guest at the screening of her documentary March 9, for the kick-off of the Women & Girls Health Weekend at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. An intimate group of women watched attentively with her in Crabtree Hall as the film looked at both sides of the debate about how much women are paying for what they considered more “beautiful” breasts. While most women spent exorbitant amounts of money for their breast implants, there were others who paid with their lives to have them in their bodies.

The documentary showed sometimes in graphic detail at how the implants can leak the saline that is inside them and cause illness and even death. One woman looked at the ruptured breast implant taken out of her daughter’s body. She declared if that’s what was supposed to make her look beautiful, then she didn’t want to be pretty.

Ciancutti-Leyva said after the screening in an interview that the documentary is about the “intersection of politics and health and corporations in our country.”

She also took a swipe at doctors when she said, “I think there’s a double standard in our health community. I think a lot of women who went to their doctors who felt instinctually that they weren’t safe from their implants the doctors would say ‘no it’s not your implants, you’re nervous or you’re upset.’ Women can be very talked down to, sometimes, by the medical community.”

The documentary acknowledged that numerous government studies have not found breast implants to be of great risk. One study was done by the Food and Drug Administration. The agency concluded that after an “intensive review” of breast implant recipients they had a very small but increased risk of developing a rare form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma. The FDA went on to state, “But with an estimated five to 10 million breast implant recipients worldwide, agency experts say the known ALCL cases are too few to say conclusively that breast implants cause the disease.”

Ciancutti- Leyva had this rebuttal to the studies. “You have to look at the nuts and bolts of the studies. How many women were in those studies? How long did they have their implants? Who paid for those studies? Like we said in tonight’s screening, there’s a real distinction between not being able to prove something is harmful and by saying its safe.”

She was driven to make the documentary by her mother, Audrey Ciancutti, a Pittsburgh native. Ciancutti was diagnosed with breast tumors in 1974 and underwent a double mastectomy with silicone implant reconstruction surgery. A year later, her implants ruptured, and soon after, her health steadily declined.

Most implants are done, some 80 percent, for cosmetic reasons. However, there are a small number of women, around 20 percent, seeking the procedure after they lost their breasts due to disease, such as breast cancer. In this instance, they get an implant for breast reconstruction or augmentation.

The numbers are also small when you look at African-Americans getting breast implants for cosmetic reasons. Ciancutti-Leyva said, “I have worked on this (breast implant issue) for over a ten year span and there have been very, very few African-American women who seem like they desire this operation,” Ciancutti-Leyva said.” Now whether it’s a matter of aesthetic for African-American women or it’s a matter of economics, I’m not exactly sure what the reasons are. But, it just does not seem as prevalent at all among African-American women.”

The Women & Girls Health Weekend was presented by the organization, Educating Teens about HIV/AIDS.

More details about the documentary, “Absolutely Safe,” can be found at ­

(Tene’ Croom is president of Tene’ Croom Communications. Reach her at or

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