Breast augmentation remains one of the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures in the U.S., as nearly 290,000 women increased their breast size with implants in 2019. As a cosmetic breast surgeon in Little Rock, AR, patients interested in aesthetic breast surgery make up a significant part of my practice.
Many of the women who come to my practice, however, want a more modest increase in their breast size than what women wanted 10 to 15 years ago. In fact, I often perform breast implant removal surgery for my patients in Little Rock and across the country who want to downsize by having their implants removed or are having implant related complications. In both situations—giving the breasts a modest boost or removing implants—using a patient’s own fat is a technique that is becoming more common.
Fat transfer breast augmentation—also called fat grafting—can be combined with a mastopexy or a breast lift. The choice depends primarily on the patient’s goals. Natural breast augmentation without implants is a good option for women who want to increase the size of their breasts by only about 1 bra cup size.
Plastic surgeons with the training to perform fat transfer breast augmentation incorporate the technique into their procedures in several ways. Before deciding whether this is an attractive option for you, it’s important to understand the 3-step process involved in fat grafting and to compare the technique to breast augmentation with implants.
What Is Fat Grafting?
The fat grafting technique isn’t limited to breast augmentation. In fact, using fat for breast enhancement is a relatively recent development compared to other fat transfer procedures. Fat grafting as part of the treatment of breast cancer reconstruction has been performed for many years, confirming the saftey of this surgery. Plastic surgeons also commonly use fat as a natural facial filler. Women who want to enhance the shape of their buttocks have fat injected during a procedure usually called a Brazilian butt lift.
Fat transfer to the breasts has gained popularity during the past 10 years or so, as surgeons continued to refine the technique. The process involves the following 3 steps:
Harvest: Surgeons can remove excess fat from virtually any area of the body using liposuction. The abdomen and flanks (“love handles”) are often targeted because the slimmer contours actually accentuate breast enhancement results.
Purification: Fat removed during liposuction also contains small amounts of blood and tumescent fluid used during the liposuction procedure. Separation of the fat cells from the debris and other fluid is an important step that is typically performed using a closed system device. This process leaves behind purified fat that’s ready to be transferred to the breasts. The purification process is sterile to ensure the viability of the fat.
Injection: Using a type of syringe called a cannula, surgeons inject the fat through small incisions. The small incisions are made in natural creases to avoid visibility and to create a symmetrical, natural breast shape.
Who Is A Good Candidate for Fat Transfer?
Determining if you could benefit from fat grafting for breast augmentation depends on whether you want the technique combined with another procedure, such as breast lift, or as the sole method of enlarging your breasts. Good candidates for fat transfer alone:
- Want an increase of about 1 cup size
- Have enough excess fat to produce the desired results
- Understand that the results may be slightly smaller or larger than they expect
As to the last point, not all the fat that’s transferred will be viable. Studies show that up to 70% of the fat survives the transfer process, but the percentage is lower in some cases. Multiple grafting sessions may be necessary to achieve your desired final result.
How Else Can Fat Be Used for Breast Enhancement?
Fat transfer is a good option for patients who are having their implants removed, a procedure called explant surgery. Breasts often sag after I remove the implants, and fat grafting combined with a breast lift can help restore the shape and volume of the breasts.
Fat is also an effective tool for camouflaging breast implants for patients with thin breast skin or little existing breast tissue. This fat supplementation creates results that look and feel more natural. That’s also true for revision breast implant patients who have experienced a complication or who want to replace older implants.
What Is Recovery Like After Fat Transfer Breast Augmentation?
Recovery from fat transfer breast augmentation is different than it is with just breast implants because the liposuction site also has to heal. One benefit of fat transfer breast augmentation without implants is that surgeons make smaller incisions for fat grafting. There is some bruising at the fat injections sites and in the area where liposuction was performed.
On the day of the procedure, expect your breasts to appear fuller than expected because of swelling. It takes about 2 to 3 weeks for swelling to resolve—which patients sometimes misinterpret as a sign that fat is disappearing.
When Will I See the Final Results?
Because not all the fat survives the transfer process, the outcome isn’t immediately apparent. Typically, fat that is viable 3 months after the surgery is permanent. If a patient schedules a single fat grafting procedure, surgeons may overfill the breasts, knowing that some fat won’t remain. Transferring smaller amounts in a series of sessions is another option.
Unlike breast implants, fat will remain in the breasts for the rest of your life. It is important to let providers who perform mammograms know that you’ve had fat transfer breast augmentation because there may be some calcification (when fat dies but doesn’t dissolve.)
If you’re considering breast augmentation in the Little Rock area and want to learn more about fat transfer, contact us using the online form to request a consultation or call us at (501) 575-0088 to schedule an appointment.