What is fat necrosis? 

Fat necrosis refers to a benign, non-cancerous condition that occurs when an area of the fatty tissue in the body experiences damage resulting in inflammation, lump formation, and sometimes, skin retraction or dimpling. While fat necrosis can occur in any part of the body, it is most commonly found in the breasts, hence the term 'fat necrosis breast.'

To learn more about the basics of necrosis, read our recent Understanding Necrosis article


Necrotic tissue on foot

Causes of fat necrosis 

While the exact cause of fat necrosis is unknown, several factors contribute to its occurrence. Trauma to the body, such as a severe blow or surgical procedures, can cause damage to the fatty tissues, leading to fat necrosis. Other contributing factors include radiation therapy, especially in the breast area, and conditions that affect the blood supply to the fatty tissues, such as pancreatitis.   

Treatment and symptoms of fat necrosis

Symptoms of fat necrosis may vary and sometimes may not even be apparent. In the breast, for instance, it can manifest as a firm, round lump that might be mistaken for a tumor. The skin over the affected area may also appear red, bruised, or dimpled. Other symptoms include pain, tenderness, and skin thickening.  

Despite its benign nature, fat necrosis can mimic the symptoms of malignant conditions, causing anxiety in some patients. Therefore, it is essential to differentiate it from malignancy. This can be done through imaging studies like mammography, ultrasound, and MRI, along with a tissue biopsy if necessary.
Treatment for fat necrosis depends on the severity of the symptoms and the patient's personal comfort. In many cases, if the lump is small and doesn't cause discomfort, no treatment is necessary, and the lump may resolve on its own over time. However, if the lump is large, painful, or causing anxiety due to its resemblance to cancer, treatment options may include surgical removal, steroid injections, or non-surgical aspiration of the lump.  

For more in-depth knowledge on how to properly treat necrotic tissue, check out our Necrotic Tissue: Identification and Treatment blog below. 

Common types of fat necrosis

There are different types of fat necrosis, including:
  •  Traumatic fat necrosis: This occurs due to injury or trauma to the fatty tissue, often resulting in a lump or area of hardened tissue.
  • Subcutaneous fat necrosis of the newborn: This rare condition affects newborns, causing firm, reddish nodules on the skin.
  •  Pancreatic fat necrosis:  This occurs due to acute or chronic pancreatitis, characterized by areas of fat destruction around the pancreas.   

Who does fat necrosis affect? 


Fat necrosis can affect anyone, regardless of age or sex. However, it is most commonly seen in women with large breasts, likely due to the breast's fatty tissue's susceptibility to injury. Moreover, individuals who have undergone breast surgery or radiation therapy are also at a higher risk. Subcutaneous fat necrosis, on the other hand, affects newborns, and pancreatic fat necrosis is associated with conditions affecting the pancreas, including pancreatitis.  

Where does fat necrosis occur?  

Fat necrosis can occur wherever there is fatty tissue in the body, including thighs, buttocks, and breasts. However, it is most commonly seen in the breasts, skin, and pancreas. Fat necrosis breast is the most common type due to the breast's high fatty tissue content. Fat necrosis skin is also common, especially in individuals with a significant amount of subcutaneous fat. Lastly, pancreatic fat necrosis is seen in individuals suffering from pancreatitis or other pancreatic disorders. 

Fat necrosis is a benign condition that often resolves on its own without treatment. But due to its potential to resemble malignant conditions, proper diagnosis is crucial. Through understanding its causes, treatments, common types, and the patient populations it affects, healthcare professionals can better manage and reassure patients experiencing this condition.

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