Nightly News   |  October 04, 2011

All-metal hips’ failure on the rise

There's growing concern that one type of hip replacement device, called metal on metal, is failing faster than devices made of other materials. NBC’s Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: One of the amazing developments in modern medicine that has become amazingly common is the hip replacement . But now one type of replacement hips that's been installed over the years is starting to fail, leaving doctors and patients facing one of this nation's largest medical device failures ever. Our report tonight from our chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman .

Ms. ILA LEWIS: Here we go, Des .

Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hip replacement surgery has given millions of Americans like Ila Lewis a second chance to enjoy an active life.

Ms. LEWIS: Come on, come on, come on.

SNYDERMAN: But there's a growing concern that one type of hip replacement device called metal -on- metal is failing faster than devices made of other materials. In these implants, the ball and socket of the device are both made from metal .

Ms. LEWIS: Those hips were going to last me 20 years, I was told.

SNYDERMAN: But within just five years of getting this kind of implant, Lewis had to have both hips replaced with nonmetal components.

Ms. LEWIS: I was experiencing 102 fever every night and pain in my right hip, much more painful than what sent me to have my hip done in the first place .

SNYDERMAN: The metal ball and cup slide against each other and over time tiny metal particles can wear off, potentially causing damage around the implant and in the joint. In rare cases the debris can even enter the blood stream and cause a reaction.

Dr. JOSHUA JACOBS (Rush University Medical Center): If you start to get any symptoms around the hip, such as pain or swelling, then you really should consult with your orthopedic surgeon.

SNYDERMAN: So far this year, the FDA has received nearly 11,000 complaints about metal -on- metal implants. One model, made by DePuy , the ASR XL , was recalled in the United States last year after reports of a high early failure rate. In a statement, DePuy says, " Metal -on- metal remains an important hip replacement option. The performance of the ASR Hip System is not indicative of all metal -on- metal devices." Critics say more needs to be done to regulate medical devices .

Ms. DIANA ZUCKERMAN (National Research Center for Women Families): The main problem with medical device regulation is they're not held to as high a standard as prescription drugs.

SNYDERMAN: This spring the FDA began requiring 21 manufacturers to examine the safety of this type of hip replacement . It's always important to make sure you've exhausted all kinds of therapies, including good pain management , before you consider any kind of surgery. And increasingly, Brian , we're seeing hip replacements required in women. They're living longer and they're much more active in their senior years.

WILLIAMS: But boy, are we going to be hearing more about these.

SNYDERMAN: Yes, we are.

WILLIAMS: Nancy Snyderman . Thanks, as always.