close up of a woman's chest in a white bra covering holding her right breast with both hands

After a mastectomy, many women want to reconstruct lost breast tissue. Usually, the choice comes down to implants or flap surgery. Breast implants are silicone or saline-filled implants inserted underneath the skin, whereas flap surgery uses a piece of tissue from another part of the body to recreate a breast mound. However, a new type of reconstruction is slowly becoming more popular, and this is serial fat grafting or otherwise known as using only fat grafting to reconstruct breasts.

There is no one-size-fits all option for breast reconstruction. It is a highly personal decision that requires care and consideration. The best choice you can make for yourself is the one you feel most comfortable with.

If you are considering serial fat grafting, below we will provide an overview of the procedure to help you start your research.

The more you know, the better equipped you will be to make an informed decision for yourself and your health.

What Is Serial Fat Grafting?

Also called autologous fat transfer, fat grafting is a procedure in which your surgeon harvests fat cells from various areas of the body and reinjects them to your breasts.

Prior to the procedure, you will talk to your surgeon about your goals and expectations to develop a treatment plan. During this time, you will determine which areas to harvest fat from. Often, fat is taken from areas like the thighs, stomach, and buttocks.

During the actual surgery, your doctor removes fat via liposuction. The fat is then purified both to remove impurities and increase the risk of a successful cell transfer.

Once the fat is purified, your surgeon injects it into your breasts using a series of small injections. This helps to sculpt and reconstruct breasts in a natural-looking fashion.

The technique is called serial fat grafting because it requires multiple small surgeries in which fat is harvested and grafted into the breasts, slowly building up the breast mound over time.   

How Does It Compare To Breast Implants?

Fat grafting is less invasive than implants. It therefore comes with a shorter recovery time. After fat grafting, you will need around seven to ten days of downtime. During this time, swelling should gradually subside though it will take three months to see your final results.

Serial fat grafting creates more natural breast feel than implants do. They also eliminate the requirement for future surgeries once the final result is achieved, unlike with implant reconstruction; implants will require future removal and replacement simply because they do not last a lifetime. The limitation of serial fat grafting is having enough donor fat. Any sized breast can be achieved over time if there is enough fat to be harvested and used.

There is a lot of fear surrounding the potential link between breast implants and a recurrence of breast cancer. Research indicates breast implants are very safe – especially if you continue to have regular exams and follow-ups. Other potential health concerns with implants include an associated with BIA-ALCL and Breast Implant Illness.

However, many women feel anxiety associated with implants may outweigh their benefits. Therefore, some women find fat grafting is more in their personal comfort zone.

There is some concern fat grafting results will not last in the event of weight loss or weight gain. On average, two thirds of grafted fat survives permanently and therefore will shrink or grow with overall weight change. However, the cells do not die.

Are There Risks Associated With Fat Grafting?

Every procedure carries risks, but fat grafting is extremely safe when you are working with a reputable plastic surgeon.

The biggest health concern women have regarding fat grafting is whether it increases the likelihood of a recurrence of breast cancer. Research indicates there is no link between fat grafting and an increased risk for cancer. 

Another major concern with fat grafting is something called fat necrosis – death of fat cells in the transfer site. Patients with greater volume of fat transferred may be at a higher risk of necrosis, but the overall risk remains low – especially when working with a qualified surgeon.

Other side effects and complications include mild concerns such as infections and cysts. These can usually be treated promptly with medical care.

Deciding to undergo any elective medical procedure comes down to determining whether the reward outweighs the risk. This is somewhat subject depending on your personal comfort zone.

For the most part, fat grafting carries a low risk of complication. The best way to ensure your procedure is risk free is to work with an experienced surgeon and follow aftercare instructions closely.

Fat Grafting For Breast Reconstruction: The Bottom Line

Undergoing breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is a major decision. Modern medicine gives you more options than ever before, but this can often make it harder to decide what is right for you. This is why it is important to give the matter serious consideration.

For those who prefer less invasive procedures, fat grafting remains an excellent choice. It is low-risk and comes with little recovery time and can recreate natural-looking breasts. This can improve your mental healthy post-mastectomy and leave you looking and feeling your best.

Ready to get started? Leif Rogers is an Ivy League-educated, board-certified plastic surgeon and a standing member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. If you’re considering fat grafting, get in touch with his team to schedule a consultation. 

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