Thousands of British women told to “have breast implants removed if you”re worried” as French authorities issue cancer alert”Low quality” implants contain industrial silicone designed for computers and electronic devices

The French government is to foot the bill for tens of thousands of women to have their breast implants removed, amid fears they are at a heightened risk of cancer.

But a similar number of British women who also have the controversial implants face hefty surgical bills for the same treatment.

The row comes amid growing concern about the safety of the French-made implants, filled with a silicone gelbelieved to have been made for mattresses.

Edwige Ligoneche was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer two years after having breast surgery

Edwige Ligoneche was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer two years after having breast surgery using a French-made silicone gel. (See box below)

Yesterday the French government told all women with the implants to have them taken out. It also said it would foot the entire bill in up to 30,000 cases.

But the lack of any similar scheme in the UK has led to accusations that British women, including breast cancer survivors, are being left in limbo.

Up to 50,000 women in this country have the Poly Implant Protheses, or PIPs, which were among the cheapest on the market and widely used in cosmetic clinics both here and abroad.

UK Government advice is that any woman who is concerned about her implants should speak to the surgeon that put them in.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency says there is insufficient evidence to indicate any association with the implants and cancer.

But Douglas McGeorge, of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said: “People with PIP implants do have a higher failure rate and there is a significant risk at some point they might rupture.

Edwige Ligoneche

“If this is a worry for patients, the sensible thing to do is to get them replaced earlier rather than later.”

The NHS does take out damaged implantsbut won”t pay for new ones to be put in, meaning patients could be leftwith a bill that runs into tens of thousands of pounds, as well as the trauma of additional surgery.

Fears about the safety of PIPs surfaced 18 months ago when surgeons noticed they were rupturing much more quickly than other brands.

An inquiry ordered by the French health watchdog reported “serious irregularities” in the implants.

Threat: The

Threat: The”low quality” implants contain industrial silicone – designed for computers and electronic devices – instead of medical-grade fillers

But when the gel”s manufacturer was asked for studies on the safety of the filler, it said it did not have any – because it believed it was to be used in the manufacture of mattresses.

It also emerged that many of the implants were missing a protective coating designed to stop them from splitting and prevent any gel that leaked from spreading through the body.

Tests failed to find any firm evidencethe implants could trigger cancer. But earlier this month the death of aFrench woman who had breast augmentation in 2005 raised fresh concerns.

Edwige Ligoneche died from a rare formof cancer and the French Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery said the gel could have been an “aggravating factor”.

Yesterday French government spokesman Valerie Pecresse said: “It is a matter of urgency that all women who have had these PIP implants are identified and the implants removed.”

“The profession has no choice,” said Laurent Lantieri, a leading plastic surgeon based in Paris, adding that the removal of the implants was a “simple operation”.

Meanwhile, 27 British women are suing their clinics to pay for the operation and for compensation for scarringand emotional trauma.

Kevin Timms, of Hertford-based Garden House Solicitors, said those worst affected could be in line for tens ofthousands of pounds. The firm is also trying to compile a national register containing details of all those who have the implants.