What is Fat Necrosis?

Mary McMahon

Fat necrosis is the destruction of fat cells inside the body. It is usually benign, but it can be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem. People often report to the doctor for treatment because it results in the formation of a hard lump at the site of the destroyed cells and the patient may think that the lump is a tumor or another cause for medical concern. Treatment for fat necrosis varies, depending on the location and the underlying causes.

When fat cells are destroyed within the body, it is known as fat necrosis.
When fat cells are destroyed within the body, it is known as fat necrosis.

In fat necrosis, fat cells are broken down by the body, usually in response to trauma. It can happen after surgery, as a result of physical stress, in the wake of radiation therapy, and in association with chronic diseases like pancreatic disease. As the cells break down, a mass of rubbery tissue can form. This lump will be palpable to the patient if it is near the surface.

Because of their high concentration of fat cells, breasts are a common site for fat necrosis.
Because of their high concentration of fat cells, breasts are a common site for fat necrosis.

A common site for fat necrosis is in the breast. Patients usually view lumps in the breast as a cause for concern and may seek medical treatment when they identify the unusual deposit of tissue. Other areas where this condition can arise include the thighs, where a lump will also be palpable, and in the fat that surrounds the kidneys. In this last case, the necrosis will usually be identified by a doctor during other diagnostic testing involving the kidneys such as an imaging study.

Treatment for fat necrosis may include warm compresses.
Treatment for fat necrosis may include warm compresses.

In the case of lumps in sites like the breast and thighs, it is not uncommon for the skin above the site of the necrosis to become mottled or lumpy. The patient may feel pain or heat in the area as a result of inflammation, and sometimes discharges develop. Treatment for fat necroses can include warm compresses along with anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain and swelling associated with the lump. In the breasts, the lump may be biopsied if a doctor cannot confirm that it is caused by fat necrosis through medical imaging such as mammography.

It's possible for fat necrosis to happen in the wake of radiation therapy.
It's possible for fat necrosis to happen in the wake of radiation therapy.

When the fat around the kidneys is damaged, it is indicative of kidney disease. The patient will need treatment for the kidney disease, including monitoring of kidney function. Another type of fat necrosis can be seen in newborns after traumatic births. The newborn may be worked up for signs of undiagnosed complications from the birth and treatment will be provided to address the lump of scar tissue that forms at the necrosis site.

Fat necrosis in the breasts may be diagnosed through mammography.
Fat necrosis in the breasts may be diagnosed through mammography.

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Discussion Comments


They think I have this in the top of my arm. I don't know why and it I just getting bigger and bigger. They don't know what it is or why it is or what to do to stop it.


My daughter had fat necrosis due to trauma at birth which went away, but 10 years later, she has had to have an operation and the necrosis has returned but only where she had her OP. I'm just wondering if yet again, it's due to her body being put under stress again.


About two months after my back surgery, I had what I called a "sweet spot". It felt like a small lump/bruise on my lower back and is painful. It's a bit off to the side where my scar is. My doctor said it was fat necrosis due to the drain he put in after surgery. He gave me lidocaine patches to wear. I hope they help.


I have necrosis in my lower abdomen and the doctor doesn't want to do anything about it. Are you all telling me that this approach is dangerous?


I have fat necrosis below my belly button wound from having gallbladder surgery. I'm relieved it's only that. I can't believe people are comparing it to cancer. Mine was caused by the surgeon hitting the blood supply to the fat during surgery. It became the size of an orange and very sore and hot but it burst and now dead fat has been coming out for 15 days.

I was treated for an abscess for two weeks as my doctor misdiagnosed it. Again, I'm relieved because that is poison.

I was only diagnosed after refusing more antibiotics from the A&E doctor and demanded to see a surgeon, so I saw two doctors and two surgeons who all said it was an abscess. I was gowned up, the cannula in and ready to go for another general anesthetic (just four weeks since my last op) when my surgeon turned up by my bedside with a scalpel in hand and punctured it again and removed more fat. He had luckily heard my name mentioned and was in the hospital on a Saturday evening and as he used to be a fat surgeon, knew what it was. Most people who get problems with it are overweight, but not all. It is now tiny and leaking a little. I think of it as my own liposuction.


Really? Are you people reading the same article I just did and responding? If so, why are you trying to horrify people when it says that fat necrosis in the breast can be treated with warm compresses and anti inflammatories? Let's try that first before we make it a terminal disease like some of you are doing.


I am suffering from fat necrosis in my thigh. I was hit by a hard object that caused trauma. A second degree burn developed, and what we thought was the swelling associated with second degree burns turned out to be hematoma and fat necrosis. I just had the cysts drained off fat and blood using syringes yesterday. It is scary. I really hope I get well.


I had a lumpectomy and radiation in my left breast many years ago for breast cancer. A couple of years ago I decided to have a breast reduction in my left breast to match the size of my right breast. I then developed fat necrosis in the reduced breast. There was no pain but I was very scared about the lump. I had a sonogram and a needle aspiration and my doctor says no further treatment is necessary. The lump is still there but I can live with it knowing it's not cancer.


So what exactly causes fat necrosis? This sounds like such a scary thing, I want to know how to avoid it! I know that I would be terrified if I ever found out that something like that was happening in my body.

It just sounds so frightening -- necrosis means that something is rotting, right? Well, if anybody knows more about this topic, please let me know, because I would love to hear more about the symptoms and warning signs of traumatic fat necrosis, as well as some more about treatments.



It's kind of hard to decide which one is worse when you find that the lump in your breast -- a fat disease or cancer.

I know a lot of women are really scared when they find a lump in their breast, and aren't really relieved to find out that it's necrosis, since necrosis can be just as scary and even more painful in some cases than a tumor.

I know there are treatment options, like a fat necrosis induced breast reconstruction, and that fat necrosis is much easier to treat than cancer, but still, I don't know that women with fat necrosis have it any easier. They can experience the same physical and psychological pain of losing part of their breast, and they can also undergo the same stigma that all women do when they have problems with their breasts.

So to all women out there with necrosis in your breast, I really sympathize with you and applaud your courage. Undergoing something that serious is something I can only imagine.


I've heard that you can sometimes get fat necrosis after a cosmetic surgery.

For instance, the other day I read an article about a woman who had fat necrosis after a tummy tuck. The woman in the article had an infection after her tummy tuck surgery, and had massive necrosis. I think that she wasn't exactly sure what was going on to begin with, so she left it for a while, thinking that it was just normal post-operative wound pain, so it got really bad.

I think that she eventually had to go in for emergency surgery because the infection was causing her to go septic. Kind of made me rethink ever getting any kind of reconstructive surgery...I mean, I think I would do anything to avoid the risk of necrosis like that!

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