What to Know About Necrosis After Breast Surgery

Updated on: August 1, 2018

Necrosis after breast surgery is a rare complication where breast tissue or breast fat dies, usually due to poor blood supply. The dead cells can be felt as a lump and cause discoloration, pus drainage and other symptoms.

Necrosis is certainly a scary-sounding condition and can cause major distress, especially after all that planning and research for your breast surgery. It’s important to have your plastic surgeon evaluate any signs of necrosis after your breast lift or breast augmentation. Antibiotic treatment or surgery may be necessary.

What is necrosis?

Necrosis is local tissue death that occurs in cells because of disease or injury, or as a complication of surgery. These dead cells can feel like a lump in the breast.

Necrosis after breast lift surgery, breast augmentation or after breast reduction is rare. It’s a non-cancerous condition and doesn’t increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

Necrosis most commonly affects the fat in the breast—called fat necrosis. Other tissue like skin or muscle is less commonly affected. Other tissues in the body, such as in the abdomen can be affected, but this is more rare. Men can also develop breast fat necrosis.

What causes fat necrosis?

After breast surgery, areas of fat may lose blood supply which can kill cells due to lack of oxygen. Pressure from your new implant or trauma to the tissue from the surgery can affect the blood supply to the tissue.

Other causes can include injury to the breast, a biopsy or radiation therapy. Breast reconstruction surgery can also lead to necrosis, especially if large flaps of skin are affected by the surgery.

Breast implant necrosis symptoms

Necrosis in the breast usually causes mild symptoms, depending on the severity of the condition. It can sometimes take many weeks for symptoms to arise. The most common symptom is a lump. Signs of breast tissue necrosis can include:

  • A lump in the breast that may or may not be painful
  • Redness, bruising or other discoloration in the surrounding skin
  • Dimpling or thickening in the skin
  • Nipple retraction
  • A fever or feeling generally sick
  • Pus or oily discharge from incision sites in the breast

Breast necrosis treatment

Breast fat necrosis can sometimes heal on its own if it’s a small area. Antibiotics or surgical removal of the dead tissue may be necessary.

It’s important to have your plastic surgeon evaluate you for specific treatment recommendations. To diagnose the necrosis, an imaging scan with X-ray, ultrasound or MRI will be used.

Your doctor may give you a course of oral or IV antibiotics. You may also need revisionary surgery to remove the dead tissue so your breasts can heal completely.

This surgery can involve rearranging the breast tissue to fill in or cover up the removed tissue using scaffold materials like a dermal matrix or mesh. Scar tissue can form from the necrosis, which may need surgery to correct. Implant removal and replacement is common due to possible bacterial contamination.

The time it takes for you to heal and have your ideal looking breasts will vary depending on your condition and treatment. Your surgeon will talk to you about your treatment plan and what to expect for the healing process and your cosmetic result.

Risk factors for developing necrosis

Certain factors can affect your chance of developing necrosis in your breast. Older women and women with large breasts are more at risk for developing fat necrosis. Smoking is a large risk factor, as well as having diabetes. Having breast cancer, radiation therapy, or traumatic injury to your breasts also increase your risk.

Talk to your plastic surgeon about these risk factors and any other health conditions you may have.

Updated May, 2018

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