Fat necrosis

August 29, 2023

Fat necrosis is a condition that occurs when fatty tissue is damaged, leading to the death of fat cells (also known as adipose cells). This process results in the formation of firm, round lumps within the fat tissue and can sometimes cause pain and tenderness in the affected area. The necrotic (dead) fat cells are often replaced by scar tissue, leading to areas that can feel firm or rubbery. Fat necrosis can occur anywhere in the body but is most commonly observed in the breasts.

Fat necrosis

Common causes of fat necrosis

Several factors can cause fat necrosis, including:

  • Trauma or injury: Direct injury to an area of the body with significant fat tissue can damage the fat cells, leading to necrosis. This could be due to accidents, surgeries, or even minor pressure.
  • Surgical procedures: Operations, particularly those involving the breasts such as lumpectomies or reconstructive surgery, can sometimes result in fat necrosis.
  • Radiation therapy: Treatment for cancer involving radiation can damage both cancerous and healthy tissue, including fat cells, causing necrosis.
  • Inflammatory diseases: Certain inflammatory conditions can indirectly lead to fat necrosis as a secondary effect of tissue damage.
  • Pancreatitis: In the context of acute or chronic pancreatitis, enzymes leaking from the pancreas can break down fat throughout the body, leading to widespread fat necrosis.

Is fat necrosis serious?

Fat necrosis is typically benign (non-cancerous) and may resolve on its own over time as the body reabsorbs the necrotic (dead) tissue. However, because the symptoms and physical findings of fat necrosis can mimic those of more serious conditions like breast cancer, it often requires further evaluation, usually with imaging tests and sometimes a biopsy, to confirm the diagnosis and rule out malignancy.

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