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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Autologous fat grafting

What is autologous fat grafting?

Dr. Stephen Ray at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center explains total breast reconstruction using autologous fat grafting. 

Autologous fat grafting, also called autologous fat transfer, is a breast reconstruction technique recommended for some cancer patients who have had a lumpectomy or mastectomy procedure and want to restore a more normal appearance to their breast. An alternative to breast augmentation, the procedure uses the patient’s own tissue instead of implants in rebuilding the breast after cancer surgery. Autologous fat grafting harvests fat cells through liposuction from anywhere in the body, typically the thighs, belly or buttocks. The harvested cells are then thoroughly washed and purified and re-injected into the breasts to rebuild the tissue. This procedure may also help to improve breast shape and contour after implant reconstruction, flap reconstruction or lumpectomy.

The patient may require two to five autologous fat grafting procedures to rebuild a breast, depending on various factors, such as breast volume and available tissue. For some patients in limited situations, breast reconstruction may be performed at the time of the mastectomy.

Autologous fat grafting is considered a natural and flexible option for breast reconstruction. When using your own tissue instead of an implant, the fat is typically removed by liposuction from an area that doesn’t necessarily benefit from having the extra fat. Breasts that have been reconstructed using autologous fat grafting may feel softer and look more natural than a silicone or saline implant, which also comes with a risk of rupturing or leaking. Your surgeon may recommend several procedures to reach your breast size goal. An external expander device may help increase the space created to fill your breast.

Patients who undergo autologous fat grafting may experience some loss of volume. Over time, the fat injected into the breast may be reabsorbed by the body, and the breast tissue may shrink. In fact, up to 60 percent of the transplanted fat typically remains in the breast six months after surgery. To account for the tissue loss, reconstructive surgeons often overfill the breast so that it settles into a more natural size and shape. Autologous fat grafting procedures are often longer than standard breast implant augmentation surgeries because the liposuction and fat processing adds time to the process. Many patients experience swelling as a common side effect of fat injection, but the excess fluid typically is reabsorbed by the body within two to three weeks. 

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What is autologous fat grafting?