Tissue expanders are a plastic surgery option commonly used in breast reconstruction. This option has been used since the mid-1970s, and it has a long and successful history. It is also easy to understand: tissue expanders are a way to stretch the breast tissue and skin so that they can be ready to support an implant during the second stage of breast reconstruction.
Considering that breast implants are one of the primary techniques used in breast reconstruction following mastectomy, tissue expanders are quite common.
What Do Tissue Expanders Do?
Tissue expanders are inserted into the chest cavity to provide room for implantation. They are then gradually filled with saline over the course of several months.
Tissue expanders may be used in cases where:
- You have experienced a mastectomy or lumpectomy
- You have a breast defect that caused one or both of your breasts to not develop, including Poland syndrome
- Unexpected weight loss has left you with smaller breasts than you would like
- You want to improve your cosmetic appearance
The Tissues Expansion Process
The process of tissue expansion is quite simple:
- You will get an incision on your chest or abdomen where the expander will be placed.
- After that, the expander is inserted under your skin and filled with saline solution.
- This takes around two hours and can be done in an outpatient setting with local anesthesia.
- Once it is in place, you will wear compression garments while it fills up (usually over a period of three weeks). The pressure helps push out any excess fluid so you do not get too much swelling or discomfort during this time period—plus it helps prevent leakage too!
- Once all of your tissue has expanded to its maximum capacity, then you can remove the expander by making another incision at the site where it was originally placed.
Candidacy for the Procedure
This procedure is top suited for women who have had a mastectomy or lumpectomy and are not currently breastfeeding. Also, you should be in good health and have sufficient fat reserves in your body, which can be determined through an MRI.
Breast reconstruction (including the placement of tissue expanders) may be delayed if you are still undergoing cancer treatments, such as radiation.
Exercise After the Procedure
When you are ready to start exercising again after having breast reconstruction with tissue expanders, you should do so slowly and carefully. It is significant not to overwork your body or put too much stress on your chest muscles during this phase of recovery. You may experience soreness or stiffness as part of normal healing; however, if pain continues for more than a week or two after exercise begins then call your doctor immediately as this could mean something else is wrong such as infection or a blood clot.
Recovery After the Procedure
Recovery from breast reconstruction with tissue expanders takes about three weeks total — one week for initial swelling to subside followed by two weeks of healing time before implants are placed inside each breast. This period may be longer between the time the tissue expander is placed and the time the final implant is placed.
During this time frame patients should avoid activities such as heavy lifting.
The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Tissue Expanders
Below are various of the most frequently asked questions about the procedure:
- What are tissue expanders?
Tissue expanders are soft, silicone-coated implants that are inserted into the breast to help the skin stretch. They are typically placed under the pectoralis major muscle — the large muscle of the chest — to protect them from injury. Using an expander is an alternative to using a tissue graft or flap for breast reconstruction.
- What is involved in getting implant-based breast reconstruction?
Getting a tissue expander is a two-step process: First is the placement of the tissue expanders. Once the expanders have been inflated to the desired amount, they will be removed and a permanent implant will be added.
- What are the benefits of tissue expanders?
Tissue expanders allow you to get breast reconstruction surgery before your body heals from a mastectomy. They also let you to have more control over the shape and size of your new breasts.
- How do I know if I require a tissue expander?
If you have had breast surgery and want to undergo reconstruction, your surgeon may recommend that you have a tissue expander placed before your final procedure. This will allow them to create more space for an implant without having to wait until your body has healed completely from surgery. Some patients may also choose to have expanders placed in order to correct asymmetry or a difference in size between their two breasts.