Fat injections have been used for a long time to rejuvenate the aging face by restoring it’s youthful volume, and to create some not-so-natural “volume” in the rear during a Brazilian Butt Lift. But (no pun intended), until recently, fat transfer to the breast has been reserved for breast reconstruction after cancer surgery.
As technology advances, the number of clinical applications for fat transfer procedures continues to rise. And since breast augmentation is the most popular cosmetic surgery in the country, some people are wondering whether breast implants are still the best for the bust.
Keep reading to learn more about the “natural” method of breast augmentation…
How do Fat Injections work?
If you could only give Science credit for one thing, let it be the fact that someone figured out that fat can be transferred from one spot to another! Just imagine if you could snap your fingers and have less fat here, and more there? Well, that’s a reality nowadays, except that it takes a little more than a finger snap to get the job done.
Fat can be liposuctioned from a place where you have a little too much (tummy, hips, thighs, etc), and injected into a place where you have too little (sunken cheeks, deep links around your mouth, “no-junk-in-the-trunk booty”, etc). As long as the fat is handled gently, it will eventually grow new blood vessels in it’s new location and continue to survive.
It seems like a good idea, but why hasn’t it caught on for breast augmentation?
It’s not the “gold standard”
It is ‘catching on’, but only for some women. Breast implants are still the “gold standard” for breast augmentation, but for a select group of women who don’t want, or don’t believe in, a foreign-body breast implant, fat transfer is becoming a valid option. The procedure isn’t for everyone though, and it has several limitations that are keeping it from outing breast implants as the main method of breast enhancement.
Concerns over breast cancer surveillance
As you might imagine, there are concerns over breast cancer surveillance after fat injections, and this is keeping many doctors (and patients) from fully endorsing the procedure. In contrast to breast implant surgery in which the vast majority of the natural breast tissue is not surgically altered, fat transfer surgery does change the internal architecture of the breast. In addition, not all of the transferred fat survives, so as much as 50-60% of it is left to either be reabsorbed by the body, or form scar tissue. This makes it very tricky for radiologists to interpret mammograms, and for patients to interpret their own self-breast exams (click here to learn how to perform a proper self-breast exam).
Another reason why fat transfer breast augmentation isn’t mainstream yet is because the results can be somewhat variable, even in the most experienced hands. Because not all of the transferred fat survives, your surgeon has to use his or her best judgement on how much fat to inject. This means that your breasts will typically be over-augmented by as much as 50-60% during the initial surgery to compensate for the fact that about 50% won’t survive. This is not a hard fast rule however, so the final result can be unpredictable, especially compared to a breast implant which has a predetermined size that doesn’t change. Unpredictable results can mean more surgery, which is not the most attractive option for many women.
It can be a long procedure
The first fat transfer breast augmentations were reported to take up to 8 hours! That’s an awful lot of surgery for anyone, even a very young, very healthy patient. Anesthesia is a significant stress on the body, and anything that can be done to limit the amount of anesthesia that you receive, without compromising the result of the operation, is a good thing. Now that surgeons are more familiar with the fat transfer operation, it usually takes less than 8 hours, but it always lasts longer than the 1-2 hour implant procedure.
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon Dr. Grant Stevens says, “In most cases, I can perform breast implant surgery in an hour or less, and get a fantastic result. This short procedure time helps my patients recover quicker and lessens their chances of having a complication related to anesthesia. I can certainly see the potential value in having fat transfer breast augmentation, but we first need to determine whether or not the risks of adding many hours onto the operative time outweigh the benefits of not having breast implants.”
Many women are not candidates for the procedure
Most women want two things… some junk in the trunk… and maybe some in the front too :)
Sorry ladies, but not everyone is a candidate for fat transfer procedures like the Brazilian Butt Lift or the Fat Transfer Breast Augmentation. We’re all very grateful that we know that fat can be moved from one place to another, but there’s gotta be enough fat to move!
The most commonly used breast implant is about 300cc (per side). That’s about 600cc of implant that gets inserted. Finding 600cc of fat to liposuction on the women who want this size implant can be very difficult, if not impossible. Same goes for the booty… if you don’t have it, you’re not gonna get it!
“Size limitations are a major drawback with fat transfer for breast augmentation”, says Dr. Stevens.
Are Fat Injections “safer” than breast implants?
The words “safe” and “natural” are used almost interchangeably on websites that are heavily in favor of fat transfer for breast augmentation, but this is not necessarily an accurate statement. Fat transfer is “natural” in the sense that your own fat is used instead of an implant. However, as we discussed above, avoiding an implant comes at a price. Longer surgery with lots of anesthesia, and the possibility of needing repeat operations for unpredictable results, most certainly detracts from the safety profile of the operation. Not to say that the surgery is dangerous, because it’s not (at least not in the hands of a fully-trained plastic surgeon). But when compared to the stellar safety record of breast implant surgery, it’s very difficult to make a claim that fat transfer breast augmentation is safer.
Natural?… Yes. Safer?… probably not.
What’s the bottom line?
“The bottom line is that fat transfer for breast augmentation seems to be a viable alternative to breast implants in a very select group of women who don’t want an implant, don’t want a drastic size change, and aren’t very thin. But, it’s difficult to recommend the procedure with some of the unresolved concerns over breast cancer surveillance, and with the longer operative times.”, says Dr. Stevens. “It’s a relatively new procedure that still needs to be evaluated with good science. It’s years away from catching up to breast implant surgery as the ‘go-to’ method for breast augmentation, and I’m not entirely sure that it will ever catch up.”Nicholas Vendemia, M.D. Plastic Surgeon, New York City MAS / Manhattan Aesthetic Surgery www.ManhattanAestheticSurgery.com
I want to thank Dr. Grant Stevens of Marina Plastic Surgery Associates for his input on this important topic. Dr. Stevens is a world-renowned expert in aesthetic breast surgery, and has been a great mentor and friend. Thank you Dr. Stevens.
Photo Credit: iStockphoto
NOTICE: None of the celebrities or individuals discussed here have ever received treatment, surgery, medical advice, or evaluations from any author, physician, surgeon, or representative of this blog. All images and photos in this article represent models only. No actual patients or clients are shown.