Tissue Expansion - What You Need to Know

Preparing for Breast Implants and Reconstructive Breast Surgery

Close up portrait of woman with dotted lines on face. Credit: Robert Daly / Getty Images

What Is Tissue Expansion: Tissue expansion is a reconstructive surgical technique which allows the expansion of breast skin and muscle using a temporary tissue expander. The expander is removed several months later. The patient will then undergo a microvascular flap reconstruction or a breast implant.

The expander is an inflatable silicone breast implant inserted beneath the skin and chest muscle. It contains a tiny fill port that is periodically injected with saline solution until it gradually fills.

Patients may feel a stretching sensation and pressure in the breast area as the expander inflates. The inflation process, which takes about a minute,takes place at intervals over several months.

Advantages of the Tissue Expansion Procedure

The tissue expander uses the skin that is connected to the patient’s blood and nerve supply. There is less scarring with the procedure.

The Tissue Expansion Procedure

The tissue expansion process may be done following a mastectomy or within a month of a mastectomy, after the surgical drains have been removed. It continues until the breast area is slightly larger than the other breast.

Once the skin over the breast area has been stretched and the patient is cleared for surgery, about a month after the end of chemotherapy, the second stage of reconstruction is performed. The expander will be removed and either a flap reconstruction or breast implant procedure will take place.

Recovery After the Tissue Expansion Procedure

Patients will usually stay in the hospital overnight. Recovery after the procedure takes about four weeks.

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