|Lee Seung-joon, second from left, a lawyer from the Tae Il Law Firm, who is leading a lawsuit against Allergan seeking damages for plaintiffs affected by its breast implants, arrives at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in this Sept. 23, 2019 photo. Courtesy of Lee Seung-joon|
By Bahk Eun-ji
A third patient has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer caused by Allergan's Biocell textured breast implants, a local law firm leading a lawsuit against the U.S. company said Monday.
Lee Seung-joon, a lawyer at Tae Il Law Firm, which has been gathering people to participate in the lawsuit since last year and filed the suit against Allergan, which was acquired by AbbVie in May, for damages, said he was distributing the press release about the third patient as the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) had not officially announced the third incideence.
"So far, three patients have so far been reported in the past few months since the company announced a compensation plan in September last year, which only reflects the high risk of the possibility of additional cases," Lee said. "We estimate that nearly 60,000 people in Korea had breast augmentation using the company's implants, but the compensation measures the ministry and the company announced are inadequate."
Tae Il is conducting the lawsuit against Allergan in a U.S. court in cooperation with an American law firm on behalf of a huge number of victims, including the three confirmed cancer patients.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety confirmed it had received a report about the new local patient with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
The patient in her 60s received breast augmentation surgery using the company's implants in 2010. She had surgery to remove the Allergan implants after having been diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer.
Nearly 2,000 people are being represented in the lawsuit as of Monday and the number is expected to increase. They include not only those who had breast augmentation for cosmetic purposes but also those who received the procedure after mastectomies due to breast cancer.
"We tried to arrange a meeting with the Allergan Korea CEO to settle, but the company refused and said they don't have anything else to offer more than the measures announced by Allergan U.S. So we decided to join the lawsuit that the U.S. firm has been leading there," Lee told The Korea Times.
Those participating in the lawsuit are seeking monetary compensation for the cost of removing the Allergan implants if they require surgical removal, and for the emotional pain and suffering caused by the fear of developing breast cancer. Lee said, however, the compensation plan the company offered only included the cost of new implants for a patient wanting to replace their current ones as a preventative measure.
The ministry and Allergan Korea announced last year that the company would provide full compensation for medical expenses and screening costs for patients who need examinations for suspected cancer. Also those diagnosed with the breast implant-linked cancer will be covered under the National Health Insurance.
If doctors suspect that a person has BIA-ALCL and pathology tests are required, Allergan will pay up to 1.2 million won ($1,000) for these. However, the cost of removal and replacement surgery is at the patients' own expense.
According to the ministry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer itself, but a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymphatic system. It is found in the scar tissue and fluid near the implant in most cases, but can spread throughout the body. The chances of an individual developing BIA-ALCL are considered low, but the cancer is serious and can be fatal if not treated promptly.
The ministry confirmed the first case of the rare cancer here in August last year, leading people who received the Allergan implants to launch a massive lawsuit. After that, the ministry and Allergan discussed compensation measures.
The Korea Times contacted Allergan Korea for comment, but the company has yet to respond.