For women who have reservations about enhancing the appearance of their breasts, a study recently released in the July issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, might come as a complete shock. About 70% of the 456 surgeons who responded to the survey said they have used fat grafting (injecting one's own fat, also known as lipografting) into the breasts.
Doesn't this seem like the ideal solution for breast augmentation? Fat grafting uses liposuction, usually from the abdomen, to harvest a patient's own unwanted fat cells to then inject into the breasts. Not only does the patient benefit from the slimming effects of liposuction, but she also gets a number of other perks. First, using a patient's own fat to augment the breasts means there is no risk of rejection as with synthetic materials. Also, no incision with a scalpel is necessary. The fat injections just use a needle, so recovery time is less and there aren't any major scars to hide.
It sounds perfect - too perfect - which begs 2 questions: Why were only 70% of plastic surgeons in the study using fat injections for breast augmentation? And if fat grafting started in the 1890s, why is it only becoming mainstream in the second decade of this millennium?
The delay in adoption actually comes from concerns over breast cancer detection. Work was published in 1987 by Mel Bircoll, M.D., on the subject of fat grafting to the breast, but he didn't really give the process due diligence, and the lack of mammographic studies and poor long-term follow-up resulted in opinions being formed on the subject prematurely. The ASPS published a position paper in September 1987 "deploring the use of fat injection in breast augmentation" because there was so much concern of the injections interfering with breast cancer detection.
More research has been done since then and is ongoing. The ASPS no longer holds that view, releasing an article on the pros and cons of the procedure in 2008. In their 2013 study, the primary use of fat grafting (nearly 90%) for breasts was for reconstruction, not cosmetic enhancement, despite the shift in opinion about mammogram interference. This suggests some surgeons may still be holding onto fears of disrupting breast cancer detection.
Here are some of the pros and cons to consider with fat grafting for breast augmentation:
- Many patients say the results feel more natural.
- It uses your body's own tissues, so it isn't going to be rejected.
- There is an added benefit of slimming liposuction to harvest the fat from another area of your body.
- No major scars are left.
- There is less recovery time than with traditional augmentation.
- When the fat is properly grafted in layers, the results can be a permanent part of your body, fluctuating with weight changes.
- Not all surgeons offer it for cosmetic purposes.
- It offers only a small volume increase compared to traditional implants.
- Results will decrease if large amounts of overall body fat are lost.
- Long-term studies on safety and efficacy are still being conducted.
- Fat is often misapplied using a "filler" technique rather than a "grafting" technique, giving only temporary results.
As fat grafting technologies improve and more research is done, more board-certified, ASPS-member surgeons are stepping forward and offering fat injections for cosmetic breast augmentation. The Plastic Surgery Center of the South, for example, offers fat injections for cosmetic breast augmentation in Atlanta, GA, and the surgeons there are board-certified ASPS-member surgeons. But patients should keep in mind that this method of cosmetic enhancement is considered best suited for adding a little volume to the breasts and may not be the best solution depending on the results desired.
Editor's Note: This is a guest article by The Plastic Surgery Center of the South, opinions expressed here are their's and not those of American Health & Beauty, LLC