By Leigh Thomas
PARIS (Reuters) - France's health minister tried to calm women's fears over potentially dangerous breast implants on Tuesday, saying there was no medical need to remove them immediately.
The implants at the center of the global scandal were made by now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) and appear to have an unusually high rupture rate.
The French government triggered a media frenzy on Friday after urging women to remove them. On Tuesday, Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said there was no rush after all.
"It's true this is not of an urgent nature. We recommend that the breast implants are removed to avoid a rupture," Bertrand told French radio RTL.
Some 300,000 PIP implants, used in cosmetic surgery or to replace lost breast tissue, have been sold worldwide.
While France has recommended that the implants be removed, other countries, including Britain and Brazil, say that women should first visit their surgeons for checks.
French authorities say there is no evidence of an increased cancer risk in the PIP implants compared to other brands.
Yet, French women support forums have been overflowing with news of the scare, with users comparing health conditions and complaining of fatigue and weakness. Some agonized over whether to remove their PIP implants.
"We can't trust the protheses and even less the surgeon who is there for the money," wrote one woman who said she had not slept for two days.
Another woman wrote: "What kills me is that this affects all our loved ones. My 22-year-old daughter is afraid I'm going to die."
Bartrand said the exact number of Frenchwomen with the implants was unknown, but a government hotline set up over the last month had received 9,500 calls and two-thirds of the callers had the implants.
PIP, once the third-largest maker of breast implants in the world, stands accused of using industrial-grade silicone instead of more expensive medical-grade silicone in some of its protheses before they were taken off the market in 2010. The company closed down the same year in bankruptcy.
The founder and CEO of PIP, Jean-Claude Mas, 72, has kept out of the public eye since the scare broke and Bertrand said on Saturday that he had to be found, describing the case "a shady business with lots of money involved."
No charges have yet been filed in the case, but sources say a Marseille court could soon bring criminal charges related to the 2010 death from cancer of a woman with PIP implants.
Other women pointed their finger at the media, saying over-emphasis on the scandal had sewn anxiety and fear.
"Enough already!" wrote a blogger on her support site. "I'm of course scandalized by this new health issue. It's a serious public health issue but the media interest has created panic."