Fat stem cell injections to the breast – Risky?

Fat processing in centrifuge.
Fat processing in centrifuge

I recently heard a news video clip about fat derived stem cell injections to the breast. There were a lot of unsubstantiated claims made, and I thought I would try to clarify some issues regarding Breast augmentation with fat derived stem cells.

There are two types of fat injection that are being confused in this debate. The first is injection of fat itself for breast augmentation. We will call this fat injection. The second is injection of fat which is supplemented with an ultra concentrated volume of fat. This ultra concentrate sample of fat has a high concentration of stem cells. We will call this stem cell enhanced fat injection.

Fat injection for Breast augmentation

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has put out a position paper regarding fat transfer. In it the issue of breast cancer detection is addressed. To quote the ASPS text:

“Concern regarding the interference of autologous fat grafts with breast cancer detection is not validated by the limited number of studies available on the topic.”

In other words, at this point there is no evidence that fat injection interferes with breast cancer detection.” As far as complications, lumps, or irregularities the position paper states:

“Studies indicate that results of fat transfer remain dependent on a surgeon’s technique and expertise”.

In other words, when an experienced surgeon uses the correct technique, the results are good. In more than four years of injecting massive volumes of fat to the buttocks, I have yet to encounter any significant complications. I use techniques described by Sidney Coleman which have stood the test of time.

Fat injections for breast augmentation have been done carefully, systematically, and succesfully in other countries as well as in the US. As long as proper technique is used, I don’t see why results would be any different than fat injection to the buttocks, which already has an established track record.

Stem cell enhanced fat cell injection

There are no new types of cells injected in a stem cell enhanced fat cell injection. The stem cells come from the same place the rest of the fat cells come from, your own fat tissue. There are normally occurring stem cells mixed with other fat cells as within the blood vessels and connective tissue of the fat.

All that we are doing is concentrating those cells so they are injected in closer proximity to each other. This likely allows for greater interaction between the stem cells themselves and the surrounding tissues, so there is stimulation for the stem cells to differentiate and create new healthy tissues.

This is not theory, it has been shown to work in breast cancer patients who have had lumpectomies followed by irradiation of tissues. I have seen the positive results in my own lumpectomy patients. These are very difficult cases which up to now were treated with complicated tissue transfers  that depended on taking large pieces of tissue from other parts of the body. Clinical studies in Italy, France, and the United states have shown the efficacy of stem cell enhanced fat transfers in helping these patients.

There is a theory that stem cells themselves pose a risk to the breast by somehow turning themselves into breast cancer cells. In order to do that the stem cells would have to differentiate first into breast duct cells. The breast duct cells develop as outgrowths from the areola after a long and complex series of signals highly dependent on specific surrounding tissues. That a stem cell injected into breast would follow this highly specific series of steps is unlikely, at best. Rather, stem cells injected into connective tissue, as they are in the breast, will follow local tissue signals and differentiate into new connective tissue. This has been demonstrated clinically.

Stem cells injected into the breast are no more likely to turn cancerous than anywhere else in the body.

There is a lot of misinformation and confusion regarding stem cell therapy, as this is a new and exciting field. The FDA is even thinking of classifying stem cell therapy as “drug therapy”. This would be a tremendous mistake as it would bring progress in this extremely promising field to a screeching halt.

Adult stem cells are purified from your own fat. They are not a “drug”. I know that I will be discussing this more.

By Dr. Ricardo L. Rodriguez MD Board Certified Plastic Surgeon Cosmeticsurg Baltimore, Maryland Ricardo L. Rodriguez on American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

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