What’s the Skinny on Fat Transfer? An Insider’s Look at The Hottest Trend in Plastic Surgery

It has long been a question that many patients ask during consultation: “It’s too bad you can’t just take this fat from my hips or tummy and bring it up to my breast?”. Ten years ago, I may have answered this question with a whimsical laugh and an “I wish we could!” Today, that answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Fat transfer or fat grafting is one of the fastest growing procedures in cosmetic and plastic surgery. A recent survey by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons*show that over 70% of plastic surgeons are performing this procedure in their practices. While fat transfer has been around for many years, recent advances in surgical technique and technological advances in industry are making the procedure more efficient, more reliable and longer lasting. The procedure is one of the fastest growing procedures that I perform here in San Diego.

Fat transfer involves the use of a thin cannula to remove fat from one area of the body by liposuction. The tissue is then processed through a series of special solutions or devices in an attempt to isolate so-called fat “stem-cells” and discard any injured fat cells. After processing, a thin needle is used to systematically inject and layer fat in small droplets to the area of the body where volume or enhancement is desired.

Historically, the procedure has been performed in facial rejuvenation to fill in wrinkles along the lines of the face or to plump up the cheeks, lips or jowls. These procedures require relatively small amounts of fat and can be performed in short periods of time in the setting of a longer facelift procedure. Recent technological advances in fat transfer have now allowed plastic surgeons to process much larger volumes of fat to and from various parts of the body.

Imagine that for a moment: Patients interested in reshaping their bodies can now undergo liposuction with fat harvesting from unwanted areas such as the abdomen, hips, thighs or arms. This fat can then be processed efficiently and replaced into other areas in need of volume restoration. Most commonly, fat can be used for buttock enhancement or a “Brazilian Butt Lift” procedure. In addition, many surgeons are now utilizing fat transfer as a natural way to augment the breasts or to hide deformities associated with loose breast skin or misshapen breast implants.

In my practice, the most common use of fat transfer involves our comprehensive care for breast cancer survivors. Fat transfer can be used as an excellent adjunct to all forms of breast reconstruction. Breast cancer reconstruction is commonly performed with an implant, a large tissue flap or a combination of the two. As time sets in and breasts change, secondary deformities may appear which can be associated with implant distortion, changes in volume, widened cleavage or thin skin. Fat transfer is an exceptional reliable way to treat these deformities, thereby restoring a very natural appearance to breast reconstruction.

It’s an exciting time in plastic surgery. Fat is no longer a bad thing to hide. It can be used to improve any area of the body that needs some “plumping up”. If you are interested in fat transfer procedures, I am pleased to discuss this with you during your consultation.

Salvatore J. Pacella M.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.S.

Kling RE1, et al. Trends in autologous fat grafting to the breast: a national survey of the american society of plastic surgeons. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2013 Jul;132(1):35-46. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e318290fad1.