A surgical fat transfer is cosmetic surgery to move fat from one part of the body to another. It's also known as a 'fat graft' or 'lipomodelling'.
The aim is to remove unwanted fat from one area (such as the tummy or thighs) and use it to smoothen or increase the size of another area (such as the breasts or face).
Although it's a relatively minor procedure, choosing to have it done is a big decision. It can be expensive, the results can’t be guaranteed, and there are risks to consider.
It's a good idea to explore the other options for losing fat before you go ahead. You may also want to read "Is cosmetic surgery right for me?"
Read on to find out:
How much does it cost?
In the UK, a surgical fat transfer usually costs between £2,000 and £6,500, depending on the size of the area being treated. There may be additional costs for consultations, aftercare and any further treatment sessions you need.
Where do I go?
If you're looking in England, check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website for treatment centres that can perform a surgical fat transfer. All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC, which publishes inspection reports and performance ratings to help people choose care.
You should also research the surgeon who is going to carry out your surgery. All doctors must, as a minimum, be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). Check the register to see the doctor’s fitness to practise history. You may also want to find out:
- how many operations they've performed where there have been complications
- what sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
- their own patient satisfaction rates
Read more about choosing a cosmetic surgeon.
What does it involve?
A surgical fat transfer can be carried out under either general anaesthetic or local anaesthetic.
It involves three main stages:
- Removing the fat. Small incisions (cuts) are made in the skin and a thin tube is used to suck out small amounts of fat (similar to liposuction). The incisions are then closed with stitches and a small dressing placed over them.
- Preparing the fat. Special equipment is used to quickly spin the fat, to separate it from any blood and other fluids.
- Injecting the fat. A needle and syringe are used to inject small amounts of fat into the treatment area. The injections are given through tiny holes in the skin, so stitches aren’t usually needed.
The procedure usually lasts a couple of hours. You may be able to go home soon after the procedure is finished, or you may need to stay in hospital overnight.
If a large area is being treated, your treatment may need to be carried out over two or more sessions.
You shouldn’t feel much pain during the procedure, but you may have some for a few days or weeks afterwards. You’ll be given painkillers if you need them.
You’ll need to arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure.
You can start driving again when you’re able to do so without experiencing any discomfort.
The treated areas will probably be quite bruised and swollen for a week or two. You may want to take a couple of weeks off work.
It can take up to six months for a surgical fat transfer to fully take effect, as some of the injected fat may be reabsorbed by your body during the first few months after the procedure.
Side effects to expect
It’s common after a surgical fat transfer to have:
- significant bruising and swelling
- temporary numbness
- small scars – these will fade, but won’t completely disappear
- loss of some of the fat from the injected area during the first few months
What could go wrong
A surgical fat transfer is generally a safe procedure, but it can occasionally result in:
- a collection of blood underneath the skin (haematoma)
- death of fat tissue (fat necrosis)
- a blockage in a blood vessel caused by a piece of fat (fat embolism)
- air leaking into the space between your lungs and chest wall (pneumothorax)
- thick, obvious scars – sometimes known as hypertrophic scars
Any operation also carries a small risk of:
- excessive bleeding
- developing a blood clot in a vein
- an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic
The surgeon should explain how likely these risks and complications are, and how they would be treated if they occurred.
Occasionally, people find the desired effect wasn’t achieved and feel they need another operation.
What to do if you have problems
Cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.
If you notice any problems during your recovery, such as signs of a possible infection (increasing swelling, redness or pain), go back to the surgeon who treated you.
If you are not happy with the results, or think the procedure wasn't carried out properly, you should take up the matter with your surgeon through the hospital or clinic where you were treated.
If you have concerns about your care, you should contact the CQC.
If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the GMC.
For more information, read the Royal College of Surgeon's advice on What if things go wrong?
BAAPS: fat transfer to breast
Royal College of Surgeons: cosmetic surgery FAQs