If you have any interest in artificial hips, you need to follow the work of Dr. Steven Tower. An orthopedic surgeon in Anchorage Alaska, Dr. Tower has built a one-man research laboratory studying the horrifying health effects of chrome and cobalt hip components. While hip manufacturers have been slow to produce meaningful studies on the ill-effects of metallosis on the human body, Dr. Tower decided to study his own patients. What he discovered could save lives.
Dr. Tower’s Backstory
Steven Tower’s story is remarkable. He is featured in the Netflix medical device documentary The Bleeding Edge. Dr. Tower is an avid cyclist and needed a hip replacement several years ago. He chose the DePuy ASR metal-on-metal artificial hip because it was marketed to “exceptionally active individuals.” Several months after his hip replacement surgery, however, Dr. Tower noticed a tremor in his hand. His ears started ringing, his thinking became confused and he began repeating himself when he spoke. One night while attending a medical conference Dr. Tower had a mental breakdown and trashed his hotel room. He wrote all over the walls with sharpies and pens, and wrote on the hotel mirrors with soap. When he returned home he measured the metal levels in his blood, and the test results revealed 100 times the normal amount of cobalt that should be in his body. Dr. Tower soon arranged to have his metal hip components removed in a revision surgery. Within a month his thinking cleared and his other symptoms mostly disappeared. He was relieved, but also intrigued.
Dr. Tower’s Chrome Cobalt Hip Study
The metal-poisoning ordeal stayed with Dr. Tower, so he decided to study the symptoms of his orthopedic patients. In March 2015 he started a screening program to measure cobalt levels in the blood of patients who received an artificial hip with any chrome-cobalt component. Astonishingly, Dr. Tower discovered that over half of his patients with a chrome-cobalt hip part had measurable cobalt in their urine. A quarter of those patients had a metal-on-metal (“MoM”) artificial hip, but most had the metal-on-plastic hips, which are thought to be safer. Steven Tower didn’t buy it.
Ominously, Dr. Tower discovered that 81% of his patients with cobalt presence in the urine suffered from “Arthroplastic Cobalt Encephalopathy” or “ACE,” which is a collection of troubling mental symptoms he believes are caused by elevated metal levels in the blood and tissue. You can read more about Steven Tower’s discovery that high metal levels in the blood can cause serious neurological problems here.
Among other things, Dr. Tower’s study concluded:
- One million Americans could be at extreme risk for ACE from metal-on-metal artificial hips. The good news is that MoM hips are no longer actively marketed and sold; the bad news is that many individuals still have MoM hips in their bodies.
- Five to ten million individuals could be at some risk for ACE from metal-on-plastic hips. Few surgeons and fewer manufacturers are studying the health effects of metal-on-plastic hips.
- One million people could be at risk for ACE from shoulder replacements. Shoulder replacement surgeries use chrome-cobalt implants.
Dr. Tower’s Recommendations for Hip Replacement Surgery
If you read nothing else, read this: Steven Tower does not recommend any patient consent to hip replacement surgery involving components containing “any chrome-cobalt hip part.” This means that patients should never receive a MoM artificial hip, where the femoral head articulates with a metal acetabular cup or a metal liner. But Dr. Tower goes further than rejecting the M0M hip. He also believes that a hip replacement with any chrome-cobalt component should be avoided. Dr. Tower’s study on his patients indicates that many hip replacements using any chrome-cobalt part can increase metal levels in the blood and cause significant negative symptoms. This means that even if your orthopedic surgeon suggests a metal-on-plastic hip system, and the metal component is made from chrome-cobalt (and most of them are), you should avoid it.
Instead, Dr. Tower recommends a cemented stainless steel stem with a stainless steel head or a ceramic head along with a polyethylene (plastic) socket. For revision surgeries Dr. Tower recommends a Titanium stem with a ceramic head “articulating” with a polyethylene socket. In his work as an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Tower does not implant artificial hips with any chrome cobalt components because “proven safe alternatives exist.”
Please note: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. This article represents my understanding of Steven Tower’s artificial hip study and recommendations. Dr. Tower has not affirmed the accuracy of this article, and if any mistake is made it is mine alone. As always, if you have medical questions about your hip, talk to your doctor. If you have legal questions, call me (919.546.8788).