Cease implanting metal hips, U.K. doctors urge

The drumbeat to banish metal-on-metal hip replacements from ever being used again is growing louder.

As the Associated Press reports, experts with the U.K.'s National Joint Registry of England and Wales--the biggest artificial joint registry in the world--want doctors to stop using the implants at all. They based their increased caution, in part, on a new study analyzing data from more than 400,000 hip replacements recorded in their registry between 2003 and 2011. About 31,000 were all-metal implants, and the data showed that 6% of those patients needed their joints fixed or replaced, versus 1.7% to 2.3% of patients who received ceramic or plastic joint implants, according to the story. That's a bad track record, because hip joints are supposed to last 10 years or longer, the story notes.

The warning basically amounts to proactive risk reduction. The AP story points out that only 5% of patients in the U.K., for example, receive the all-metal hip implants, a relatively low number influenced by safety concerns that first erupted years ago. But the U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has already warned that 50,000 patients out of as many as 65,000 with all-metal hips will need annual blood tests for the life of their implants to test for possible toxic metal exposure, among other side effects. And some patients and their doctors still choose the implant; its use isn't banned.

In the U.S., as many as 500,000 patients have the metal-on-metal hips, the AP story explains. But safety concerns here, and globally, have continued in the face of Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) 2010 recall of its DePuy ASR all-metal hip implant system based on high failure rates. The FDA last year asked companies that make the metal hip implants to conduct safety studies. Based on the study results, harsher limits on their use in this country could follow, placing a number of metal hip implant manufacturers under the spotlight, including Stryker ($SYK) and Zimmer ($ZMH).

For more details on the U.K. registry study, read the online version of the journal Lancet.

- here's the AP story
- read the journal abstract