What is the Purpose of Tissue Expander Breast Reconstruction?
The purpose of a tissue expander is to create a pocket for a permanent breast implant, which will be inserted once there is adequate skin and tissue to accept the implant. Tissue expander reconstruction may be performed immediately (at the time of mastectomy; therefore, called immediate reconstruction) or any time after the mastectomy has healed (delayed reconstruction). First, the tissue expander is inserted beneath the chest wall muscle. After you have healed from that first procedure, I will gradually increase the size of the tissue expander by adding saline through a port beneath your skin. This is done in my Mentor plastic surgery office on an outpatient basis and takes only a few minutes per visit. Most of my patients have little discomfort after each appointment, and find that breast tightness decreases within 24-48 hours, as only about 10 teaspoons of saline are injected into the expander at each visit.
Approximately three weeks after the expander placement, the skin and tissues will be enlarged enough to accept an implant. Once tissue expansion is completed and you are medically cleared for the second step, the tissue expander is replaced with an implant to create a natural, refined breast shape. This is performed under general anesthesia in a similar fashion as a breast augmentation. Note that, with this procedure, breast implants are placed in both breasts to assure a symmetrical appearance in both size and projection of the breasts.