Fat Grafting for Breast Reconstruction
What is Fat Grafting?
Fat grafting refers to the process of removing fat from one area and transplanting it into another area. Fat grafting can be done to many areas of the body including the breasts, face and buttocks. The fat that is moved adds volume to the area in which it is placed and may also have beneficial biomedical effects on the surrounding tissues, especially radiated tissues.
Most people are good candidates for fat grafting. It is especially helpful in adding volume to the upper part of a breast reconstruction as this area is difficult to fill with an implant or flap. In addition, if a patient has had a lumpectomy, fat grafting can fill the area where the cancer tissues were removed. Fat grafting has had a profound effect on breast reconstruction after breast cancer.
How is Fat Grafting Performed?
The first part of the procedure is to remove the fat from the donor area. The donor area is usually the belly or thighs. This is done with a liposuction machine, but with a slightly different technique than standard liposuction. After the fat is harvested it is prepared for injection by our team. The fat is then injected into the areas where it is desired.
What are the Results?
The results have been quite good so far. Studies have shown that about 50 to 60 percent of the fat that is transferred will survive. Because of that, we often inject more fat then may be needed during the surgery. However, there is only so much fat that can be injected in one sitting. Some patients may need more than one procedure to achieve their desired results.
Will the Results Change if I Lose or Gain Weight?
The fat we inject is just like the fat elsewhere. If you gain a lot of weight then the fat cells will get bigger. If you lose a lot of weight the cells get smaller. But if your weight is generally stable, plus or minus 15 pounds, the results should not change over time.
Will Fat Grafting Cause Cancer to Return?
Some patients worry that fat grafting to the breast can cause breast cancer recurrence. Currently, there is no evidence to support that fat grafting will cause the cancer to return. A patient still needs normal screening that is recommended by her cancer doctors. She should inform them of any reconstructive procedure she has undergone.
Can Fat Grafting be Seen on a Mammogram or MRI?
Yes, fat grafting can be seen on imaging studies. It is important to have a screening prior to fat grafting so that there is a baseline from which to evaluate. The physicians at The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction order screening for patients who haven’t had one.
Will Fat Grafting Help a Patient who has had Radiation Therapy?
Fat grafting has been shown to improve irradiated tissues as well as help heal wounds in radiated areas. This includes breast tissue as well as tissues elsewhere in the body. No one is sure why it helps, but stem cells are injected along with the fat and this may be what aids the tissues in recovering. A patient should wait until six months after radiation therapy is completed before having any procedures on radiated tissues.
Will Insurance Cover this Procedure?
Yes, insurance will cover fat grafting for breast cancer reconstruction. This includes following both lumpectomy and mastectomy. Since fat grafting is a method of remaking the breast it is considered medically necessary. This includes the cost of liposuction to remove the fat as well.