Without a doubt, Marilyn Monroe’s lush curves and hourglass shape have a sexy, healthy vigor that Twiggy’s sickly, wispy frame lacks. Ideally, our waists would be neat and trim, and our breasts full like Monroe’s, but our genetics have a mind of their own.
Fortunately, cosmetic surgery can accentuate any figure. Reconstructive breast surgery for breast cancer survivors takes a different approach from implants, using a medical procedure called lipofilling. Also known as “fat grafting” or “fat transfer,” lipolfilling is an augmentation procedure that involves injecting a patient’s own body fat into the desired area to increase volume. Although it’s typically used for breast reconstruction to fill in the hollows and irregularities that breast implants can’t mask after a mastectomy, there is an increasing market for aesthetic lipofilling.
How Is Lipofilling Performed?
In order to understand lipofilling, one needs to have knowledge of the most basic unit of fat – the fat cell. Fat cells or adipocytes are cells that store energy as fat. Fat cells store fat as droplets; when weight is gained, the fat cell swells up; when weight is loss, the adipocyte shrinks. Adipose tissue also contains a variety of other cells in addition to fat cells, such as developing fat cells and stem cells. All the cells within the stroma, the framework of the fat tissue, are connected to each other through nerves and blood vessels.
The process for lipofilling seems simple: take the fat cells, plant them in the breasts or another desired area. Adipose cells are usually collected from the “saddlebags,” a typically fatty region that encompasses the hips, upper outer thighs and butt. The fat cells are then harvested through liposuction. The doctor sticks a tube, the cannula, into the deep fat layers to avoid injury to the skin. As the tube moves through the fat cells, it breaks them up and a syringe with a vacuum collects the cells.
The tube is typically low pressure to avoid damage to the cells. After the liposuction part of surgery is completed, the fat is placed on a centrifuge for 3 minutes at 3000 rpm (rotations per minute). What remains are three layers: the upper layer consists of oil (the contents of the fat cells), the middle layer of the different cells found in fat tissue and the bottom of cell debris and blood. Only the middle layer is injected into the breasts, using syringes and cannulas of varying length and size to account for each defect. For the breasts, large cannulas and syringes are typically used to transfer larger amounts.
How Effective Is Lipofilling For Breast Reconstruction?
Transferring the fat is easy, of course, but keeping the fat cells alive is another challenge. In order to grow in its new area, the fat must be in contact with blood vessels to receive nutrients and oxygen. Often, the fat cells don’t survive, and are then absorbed and digested by the body. Some surgeons attempt to maximize the adipose survival area by implanting the cells as a lattice – spreading them out over a large surface area, as opposed to injecting them in large clusters.
Sometimes, a patient can do her part to maximize the results by minimizing mobility to the area, thus allowing the blood vessels to reach the fat more quickly. The greatest factor contributing to absorbency however, is the skill of the surgeon. Since there is no standard for lipofilling, techniques vary greatly. If you’re considering lipofilling, an experienced surgeon specializing in lipofilling is your best bet.
Is Lipofilling Safe?
As a relatively new procedure, lipofilling is still being researched for unwanted side effects, such as the recurrence of breast cancer. It has been theorized that the growing fat cells can stimulate the growth of dormant cancer cells in surviving cancer patients. A recent study published in the May edition of the cancer journal The Annals of Oncology found no correlation between lipofilling and the resurgence of breast cancer, suggesting the procedure is safe.
Lipofilling Results and Costs
Increasing advances in lipofilling, such as the transfer of stem cells along with fat cells, are increasing the number of adipose cells transferred. Lipofilling does have its limitations. If you’re hoping to go from a B to a D cup, you’re out of luck. The greatest amount of fat that can be transferred successfully is the rough approximate of one cup size.
While most surgeons claim to have permanent results, depending on your body, you might need several follow up fat grafts to ensure maximum absorbency. The procedure, at $4,600, is also a bit pricey. If you wish the au natural look, however, lipofilling is the perfect procedure to kill two birds with one stone.