Fat grafting, or fat transfer, is a commonly used technique to reconstruct the breast after mastectomy or lumpectomy. In addition, fat transfer can correct breast size and shape affected by genetic issues like Poland Syndrome or tuberous breast, which may cause misshapen or underdeveloped breasts.
Women who undergo breast cancer removal surgery will usually experience the loss of some or all breast tissue — a bodily change that can have serious adverse effects on psychological welfare and happiness post-cancer. Breast reconstruction is an important part of recovering from breast cancer and returning to a normal life.
In some cases, breast reconstruction with fat transfer can be performed during the same procedure as cancer removal. Reconstruction can also be performed after the completion of treatment. No matter the timing, this type of breast reconstruction produces attractive, natural results using a woman’s best reconstruction resource: her own fat cells.
The Science and Techniques Behind Fat Grafting
For more than 100 years, doctors have successfully used patients’ own fat in the surgical restoration of a natural, healthy appearance — from reconstructing areas damaged by cancer and cancer treatment to restoring youthfulness to areas affected by age.
The success of fat transfer surgery depends on harvesting, processing, and transfer techniques used to move the patient’s living cells during the procedure. Not all techniques are created equal or offer equal results. Omega Hospital Integrative Breast Center surgeons are experts in successful fat transfer and breast reconstruction. Each year, our surgeons perform hundreds of breast reconstruction surgeries, including many that involve fat grafting.
How Does Fat Grafting for Breast Reconstruction Work?
There are two ways that fat grafting, or transfer, can be utilized in breast reconstruction:
After the cancer is removed from the breast, your surgeon can inject fat into the hollow that may have resulted from tissue removal. This is a secondary surgery.
- Post-Mastectomy, and One-Stage Breast Reconstruction
Fat can be injected around the breast implant during a secondary surgery, giving the appearance of a more natural, full breast.
Where Does the Fat Come From?
When you choose fat transfer for your breast reconstruction, your surgeon will choose a donor site. The site is usually located in the areas of the belly, thigh, or flanks (love handles).
Then, the fat is removed from the donor site with a special liposuction technique that preserves the living fat cells. This fat is processed into pure fat, which supports concentration of highly enriched stem cells. Because of their rejuvenating abilities, stem cells help the reconstructed breast heal, and can enhance final breast reconstruction results. Omega Hospital Integrative Breast Center always recommends use of stem cells when the breast has been treated with radiation.
To transfer fat to the breast site, our surgeons carefully and skillfully inject individual droplets of fat into the breast with a special instrument known as a cannula. Use of a cannula prevents the small blood vessels in and around the breast tissue from bleeding, thus saving the transferred fat cells from dying (a process known as fat necrosis). The fat becomes part of the breast’s existing adipose, or fat tissue, and the breasts are “naturally” enlarged.
Breast fat transfer can be used for the following goals or issues:
- To increase overall breast size by one cup
- To create fullness or symmetry, including superior and medial fullness to enhance breast cleavage
- To correct contours of breasts affected by radiation or lumpectomy
- To correct or improve upon breast symmetry and fullness in patients dissatisfied with the results of previous breast reconstruction surgery
Recovery from fat transfer usually takes one to two days. All breast reconstruction patients have a range of options. Our surgeons will be happy to help you find the one that is right for you.
Benefits and Results of Fat Grafting
After the fat grafting procedure, patients will see fat retention ranging from 50-80%. Fat that is not absorbed back into the body will permanently augment the breast. Because there are no incisions made to the breast during the grafting procedure, fat injections by cannula result in little to no scarring.
Another benefit of the fat transfer procedure is the resulting slimmer, trimmer donor area (hips, belly, thighs, or love handles). Your surgeon will make two small incisions at the donor site to harvest the fat; however, these are well-hidden, and are usually no longer than 3mm.
What to Expect After Your Fat Grafting Procedure
While you will experience mild to moderate swelling and bruising in the breasts and the donor site, there is normally little breast discomfort after fat grafting. Mild to moderate discomfort in the donor site is normal.
Our staff will fit you with a compression garment to minimize swelling of the donor site. For at least two weeks following your surgery, you should avoid any compression of the breasts; for this reason, you will not be fitted with a post-operative bra. This is to allow the new, living fat cells to integrate successfully into the tissue. Common activities that you should avoid include wearing a bra, sleeping on your stomach, or any activity that might place direct pressure on the breasts.
Patients with more sedentary jobs are generally able to return to work in three to five days, while patients with more active jobs are usually able to return to work one week after their surgery.
To discover which fat grafting options are right for you, and how it can help you achieve the appearance you want, please schedule a consultation with our surgeons.