Fat grafting as a means of either (cosmetically) enlarging breasts or (reconstructively) correcting defects / asymmetries after breast cancer surgery/radiation therapy has been gaining ground as an acceptable method in the past few years. True, much debate is still occurring but research is being encouraged to answer questions regarding safety (short and long-term) and efficacy.
The two articles (full references below) from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine suggests that it is NOT safe to use adipose-derived stem cells (ADSC) that may be part of fat grafting in any patient with active tumor cells.
From the first article’s abstract (bold emphasis is mine):
Adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) have been proposed to stabilize autologous fat grafts for regenerative therapy, but their safety is unknown in the setting of reconstructive surgery after mastectomy. ….
Here, we ask whether ASC promote the in vitro growth and in vivo tumorigenesis of metastatic breast cancer clinical isolates. Metastatic pleural effusion (MPE) cells were used for coculture experiments. ASC enhanced the proliferation of MPE cells in vitro (5.1-fold). ……… The secretome profile of ASC resembled that reported for MSC, but included adipose-associated adipsin and the hormone leptin, shown to promote breast cancer growth. Our data indicate that ASC enhance the growth of active, but not resting tumor cells. Thus, reconstructive therapy utilizing ASC-augmented whole fat should be postponed until there is no evidence of active disease.
From the second article’s abstract (bold emphasis is mine):
There is often a pressing need for reconstruction after cancer surgery. Regenerative therapy holds the promise of more natural and esthetic functional tissue. In the case of breast reconstruction postmastectomy, volume retention problems associated with autologous fat transfer could be ameliorated by augmentation with cells capable mediating rapid vascularization of the graft. …..
. Available evidence from case reports, cell lines, and clinical isolates favors the interpretation that regenerating tissue promotes the growth of active, high-grade tumor. In contrast, dormant cancer cells do not appear to be activated by the complex signals accompanying wound healing and tissue regeneration, suggesting that engineered tissue reconstruction should be deferred until cancer remission has been firmly established.
The early research suggest that fat grafting as a reconstructive tool in breast cancer survivors is safe (non-tumor causing) as long as care is taken to be sure any remaining tumor cells are dormant and non-active.
It must be remembered that fat grafting is a surgical procedure and as such is not risk free. All surgical procedures carry the risks of infection, bleeding, etc. The fifth reference below reminds us that fat grafting is not always a simple, benign procedure.
Autologous fat grafting to the breast for breast reconstruction and cosmetic breast augmentation has gained much attention recently. However, its efficacy and the severities of its associated complications are of concern. The authors experienced one case of multiple breast abscesses after augmentation mammoplasty by autologous fat grafting. ……….
Immediate complications such as edema, hematoma, and infection require serious consideration after autologous fat grafting in the breast. In particular, infection probably is the most serious complication because the volume of the fat injected is large and can induce systemic infections such as sepsis and distort the contours of the breast. To avoid such infections, systemic and multicenter studies are required to determine how fat grafting should be performed to minimize the risks of fat necrosis and infection.
Regenerative Therapy and Cancer: In Vitro and In Vivo Studies of the Interaction Between Adipose-Derived Stem Cells and Breast Cancer Cells from Clinical Isolates; Ludovic Zimmerlin, Albert D. Donnenberg, J. Peter Rubin, Per Basse, Rodney J. Landreneau, Vera S. Donnenberg; Tissue Engineering Part A. September 2010, ahead of print.
Regenerative Therapy After Cancer: What Are the Risks?; Vera S. Donnenberg, Ludovic Zimmerlin, Joseph Peter Rubin, Albert D. Donnenberg; Tissue Engineering Part B: Reviews. November 2010, ahead of print.
Fat Grafting to the Breast Revisited: Safety and Efficacy; Coleman, Sydney R.; Saboeiro, Alesia P.; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 119(3):775-785, March 2007; doi: 10.1097/01.prs.0000252001.59162.c9
Autologous Fat Grafting to the Reconstructed Breast: The Management of Acquired Contour Deformities; Kanchwala, Suhail K.; Glatt, Brian S.; Conant, Emily F.; Bucky, Louis P.; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 124(2):409-418, August 2009; doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181aeeadd
Sepsis With Multiple Abscesses After Massive Autologous Fat Grafting for Augmentation Mammoplasty: A Case Report; Keu Sung Lee, Seung Jo Seo, Myong Chul Park, Dong Ha Park, Chee Sun Kim, Young Moon Yoo and ll Jae Lee; Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, November 2010; DOI: 10.1007/s00266-010-9605-8