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Poor eight-year survival of cemented zirconia-polyethylene total hip replacements

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Between January 1988 and January 1991 we performed 100 consecutive cemented total hip replacements using a zirconia head, a titanium alloy stem and a polyethylene cup. We reviewed 78 of these hips in 61 patients in detail at a mean of 5.8 years (1 to 9).

Aseptic loosening was seen in 11 hips (14%). Eight needed revision. In total, 37 cups (47.5%) showed radiolucent lines, all at the cement-bone interface, with 18 (23%) involving all the interface. Of the 78 femoral implants, 17 (21.7%) showed radiolucent lines, and two, which had a complete line of more than 1 mm thick, definite endocortical osteolyses. There was also an abnormally high incidence of osteolysis of more than 2 mm at the calcar.

Survivorship analysis showed that only 63% were in situ at eight years. These worrying results led us to abandon the use of zirconia heads, since at the same hospital, using the same femoral stem, cement and polyethylene cup, but with alumina femoral heads, the survival rate was 93% at nine years. We discuss the possible reasons for the poor performance of zirconia ceramic.

Correspondence should be sent to Dr J. Allain.

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