A breast tissue expander is an inflatable breast implant designed to stretch the skin and muscle to make room for a future, more permanent implant. Before undergoing the tissue expander process, be ready to learn about tissue expander.
If the best option for you is a staged reconstruction, you will most likely receive a temporary tissue expander at the time of your mastectomy. During mastectomy, the surgeon creates a pocket, generally behind the chest muscle where a temporary tissue expander may be placed. At the time of surgery, the surgeon will insert small surgical drains for your body's natural healing fluid. Through a port located inside the expander, the team will periodically inject saltwater solution to fill the expander over a few months. The expander gradually stretches the muscle and skin in preparation for either an implant or tissue reconstruction. After the skin over the breast area has stretched to the appropriate size, the expander will be removed in a second operation and the final reconstruction will be performed.
Most often, we place a sheet of collagen, a material that is natural in your body as reinforcement for the tissue expander. This is called an acellular dermal collagen matrix in which blood vessels grow in over time becoming a part of you. This provides an internal bra of sorts or a sling to support your reconstruction by preserving the fold under the breast.
The whole process can take weeks to months and is different for each individual, depending on whether treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy are required. The tissue expander is always temporary, hospitalization is usually overnight. And women are usually back to work within two to four weeks, depending on the type of job.
There is some discomfort with the expansion process, because it is stretching the chest muscle, but most women find that it is most sore in the first couple of weeks improving over time and is overall very well tolerated. The drains will remain in for one to two weeks. Your experienced breast reconstruction surgeon will do everything possible to make your breasts look and feel as natural as possible and will be able to answer any of the questions or concerns at any time throughout your treatment.