An Overview of Breast Fat Necrosis

This harmless condition results when fatty breast tissue is damaged

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Breasts are mostly made up of fatty tissue, and if that tissue is damaged by injury, surgery, or radiation therapy, a lump can form. This is called fat necrosis. The condition can be frightening because the lump can both feel like breast cancer and may look like a tumor on a mammogram. But fat necrosis is a benign (noncancerous) condition.

Necrosis is a medical term used to describe damaged or dead tissue.

These lumps can occur at any age and appear anywhere in the breast, but they're more common in women who are obese or have very large breasts.

Symptoms of Breast Fat Necrosis
Verywell / Jessica Olah


Fat necrosis develops when the body replaces damaged cells with firm scar tissue.

The effects can include:

  • Lumps: It may feel like a hard, round lump, or like a section of thick skin. Sometimes, the fat cells turn into scar tissue or form a sac-like collection of oily fluid called an oil cyst, which may feel like a smooth and squishy lump (akin to a small grape).
  • Pain: It's usually painless, but your breast may feel tender or painful in the area surrounding the necrosis.
  • Changed appearance: The skin around the lump may look red and bruised. You may see some drainage from the nipple that's nearest the bruised region. The nipple may pull inward a little bit, or the breast skin may dimple above the lump of fat necrosis.

One study on fat necrosis found that 97% of lumps could be felt. Other characteristics of fat necrosis included:

  • The lumps are often periareolar (around the nipple) and superficial (felt just under the skin).
  • Bruising or tenderness was noted 26% of the time.
  • Skin tethering or dimpling was noted in 14% of cases.
  • Nipple retraction was present in 9% of cases.

The symptoms of breast necrosis can be the same as symptoms of breast cancer. It is important to seek medical care to determine the cause of your symptoms.

After the area of breast fat necrosis appears, it may increase in size, decrease in size, or stay the same. It may persist for years or may resolve, leaving behind fibrosis and calcifications that may be seen on a mammogram.


There are a few causes of fat necrosis.


Fatty breast tissue can become damaged after any type of traumatic breast injury, for instance being hit by a ball or restrained by a seatbelt or airbag during a car accident. Sometimes, though, fat necrosis develops without any trauma.

Radiation Treatment

The use of ionizing radiation to treat cancer cells may sometimes cause an area of fat necrosis that can be mistaken for a breast cancer recurrence. This appears to be more common in people who have accelerated partial radiation—a type of radiation given only to the part of the breast that has cancer in it.

Breast Surgery

Any type of breast surgery can damage the fatty tissue, including biopsies (e.g., needle biopsy or surgical biopsy), reconstruction, reduction, and lipomodelling (a.k.a. fat transfer), which is when fat is taken from another part of the body and injected into the breast.

Fat necrosis is more common in those who have breast cancer surgery and also receive adjuvant chemotherapy, which is given to prevent recurrence of the original tumor. The condition is becoming more of a concern with fat grafting during reconstruction since it can be difficult to differentiate fat necrosis from a breast cancer recurrence.


Fat necrosis can be difficult to diagnose because it often looks and feels like many other types of breast lumps. Both during a clinical breast exam and a mammogram or other imaging study, the mass may look like a malignant breast tumor—dense, with an irregular shape, a spiky border, and a collection of microcalcifications.

Fat necrosis in the breast may appear to be atypical lipoma or liposarcoma, types of tumors that are very rarely found in breast tissue. If the fat has turned into liquid, it can look like a cyst on an ultrasound.

Fat necrosis can take on different appearances over time, so follow-up mammograms will show a change in the mass.

To diagnose fat necrosis, a biopsy (removing all or part of the lump to look at the tissue under the microscope for signs of cancer) is often needed.

Oil cysts are usually diagnosed with needle aspiration, a type of biopsy procedure in which a sample of the fluid is removed from the mass via a thin, hollow needle and then microscopically examined.


According to the American Cancer Society, fat necrosis and oil cysts usually don’t need to be treated. Sometimes fat necrosis goes away on its own, as the body breaks it down over time.

If you've recently had a breast injury or surgery and you suspect fat necrosis, try warm compresses and gentle massage—with care, the tissue may heal.

When fat necrosis causes pain, you can take Advil (ibuprofen) or aspirin. For severe pain, ask your healthcare provider for prescription pain medicine.

Even if your symptoms go away, be sure to mention them—and any other changes in your breast—to your healthcare provider.

In cases where the mass is large and causing significant discomfort or distress, it may be removed with a vacuum-assisted core needle or a lumpectomy. If a needle aspiration is done to remove the fluid in an oil cyst, it can also serve as treatment. Oil cysts can also be surgically removed.


Benign breast conditions like fat necrosis often crop up without an explanation, so they can't really be prevented or avoided. However, since being overweight can raise your risk of the condition, losing weight may reduce your risk of developing it.

A Word From Verywell

Fat necrosis can be frightening for women and a challenge for healthcare providers. That said, through a combination of imaging studies and a biopsy, if needed, you and your healthcare provider can be sure the changes you're experiencing are remnants of past damage to your breast tissue and nothing more.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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