Fat Injections for Breasts: How Safe Are They?

There are many reasons why women choose to reshape their breasts. Some wish to repair results from surgery while others are simply looking to boost their bust. Whatever the reason, cosmetic surgeons are improving methods for breast augmentation, reconstruction, and contouring.  One method that continues to be studied is fat injections. During this procedure, a patient's own fat is injected into the breast. But how safe is this method?

Fat injections after breast reconstruction to correct implant wrinkling or dimpling may be safe and effective to improve breast shape, according to a study presented at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) 2008 conference. But it might not be such a great idea yet for women looking to increase their breast size.

The study looked at 21 patients who had 42 fat transfers (taken from the patients' abdomen or upper thighs) performed approximately 10 months after reconstruction for contour deformities or wrinkling. The study determined that fat injections to the breast for reconstruction is safe, improves breast shape, and corrects implant wrinkling.

Using fat injections for cosmetic breast enhancement, however, is still controversial. In 2007, The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons issued a joint statement of caution that fat injections for augmentation are not recommended, citing a lack of data and fear of hindering breast cancer detection.

A task force reviewed 110 published studies on fat injections and found that:

  • Fat graft procedures are not standardized and may vary from doctor to doctor. 
  • There's a lack of strong data about safety and efficacy of fat graft procedures.
  • Reported complications including tissue death suggest the technique is associated with risks.
  • Fat injections may interfere with breast physical exams, but available data suggests they may not interfere with mammograms; and no reports of increased malignancy were found.

Additionally, they said that aside from the need to prove fat injections for augmentation are safe and effective, there are other issues women and physicians should consider including:

  • Time. Breast augmentation with implants takes a fraction of the time in the operating room and under anesthesia as fat injections and many patients will need to be re-injected.
  • Expense. Surgeon fees for implants and liposuction are considerably less expensive than breast augmentation with fat injections.
  • Results. With implants, patient's end up with a predictable enlargement, typically about two cup sizes.  Implants may not feel entirely natural and may have to be replaced. Fat injections however, rarely enlarge the breast more than one cup-size, and results are not predictable or guaranteed.  When they are successful, the breast tissue is entirely the patient's own.

The studies conclude that more research needs to be done on the safety and efficacy of fat injections purely for cosmetic, augmentation purposes.  For women who are looking for improvement of breast appearance after lumpectomy, radiation, or reconstruction however, fat injections are considered safe and effective.