Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fat Grafting in Breast Reconstruction - What's the Scoop?

Fat grafting has been in the news a fair amount so I thought I'd give you a brief run-down of what's involved....

Fat grafting is a fairly new technique in breast surgery. Fat is liposuctioned from one part of the patient's body, purified and then injected into the breast.

Fat grafting can be used to fill-in partial breast defects after lumpectomy. It is also frequently used after mastectomy, usually in conjunction with other reconstructive techniques, to optimize the breast contour and improve overall cosmetic results.

There are several fat grafting techniques that are used by plastic surgeons. There is no "set way" that has been shown to be the best in terms of long-term results. However, studies have shown that regardless of the technique used, the collection, storage, and transplantation of the fat cells (and fat stem cells they contain) must be optimized to obtain the best long-lasting results.

Studies have also shown that once the injected fat "takes", it can also help improve the thickness and quality of radiation-damaged tissue and skin.

Regardless of technique, some of the injected fat will be reabsorbed over time but this can vary depending on the exact clinical situation. Patients must therefore be prepared to require more than one procedure for the best results.

As for the risks.... For women still undergoing regular mammograms, it is also important to know that fat grafting can also cause calcifications known as "MACRO-calcifications". As many of you have already unfortunately experienced, breast cancer can also cause calcifications, known as "MICRO-calcifications". According to the American Society of Radiology, these different types of calcifications are easily distinguishable. Having said that, I still tell my patients that fat grafting can lead to the recommendation for further tests in the future because of this calcification issue.

Injected fat can also become firm or create "oil cysts". Fortunately these are becoming much less frequent as techniques are refined but again, both of these can cause "unnecessary" stress.

Several independent studies that have evaluated patients over a few years after the procedure have shown that fat grafting is safe. However, because the technique is fairly new, no long-term safety data is currently available.

Unfortunately not all insurance companies cover the cost of fat grafting so the procedure can involve out of pocket expenses for some patients.

I hope this info helps.

Dr C


PRMA Plastic Surgery specializes in advanced breast reconstruction including DIEP flap, SIEA flap, GAP flap, TUG flap, Alloderm One-Step and fat grafting. In-Network for most US insurance plans. Patients routinely welcomed from across the USA. Please call (800) 692-5565 or email to learn more about your breast reconstruction options. Connect with other breast cancer reconstruction patients at


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