How safe are metal-on-metal hip implants?

On February 28, 2012, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an article analyzing and discussing the risks of a popular type of medical device, the metal-on-metal hip implant. In a joint news piece with the BBC, the BMJ examined evidence suggesting that manufacturers of metal-on-metal hips marketed these devices with the knowledge that they posed an increased risk of exposure to toxic levels in the hip patient. There are currently two types of metal-on-metal hip devices on the market: the hip resurfacing implant and the total hip replacement implant.

Although marketed for use amongst young and active patients, metal-on-metal hip implants have actually exhibited higher failure rates than hip implants composed of other materials. The article cites data indicating that the failure rate of metal-on-metal total hip replacements is 13.6% at seven years, and 11.8% for metal-on-metal resurfacing implants within the same time period. However, the failure rate for hip implants composed of other materials is significantly lower, ranging from 3.3% to 4.9%.

These failure rates are worrisome, particularly when taking into account the large number of patients who have been implanted with metal-on-metal devices worldwide. According to data cited in the article, nearly one million patients have received metal-on-metal implants in the U.S. alone. The dangers posed by metal-on-metal hip implants include elevated metal toxicity in the blood, carcinogenic potential posed by the elevated metal levels, and the possible transfer of this toxicity from an expectant mother to her child.

The article provides examples of metal-on-metal hip devices that have posed an increased risk of metal toxicity for patients. These devices include metal-on-metal hip implants manufactured by DePuy Orthopaedics, Smith & Nephew, and Zimmer.

See the full British Medical Journal article at:


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