Reconstruction with the use of a tissue expander is relatively straightforward: it allows you to “grow” more skin in the area that needs reconstruction. As it relates to breast reconstruction, a silicone balloon expander is placed under the skin where the breast would be. Over time, more and more salt water is added to the balloon, causing the skin to stretch and grow along with the increasing volume of the balloon. In many cases of reconstruction at the time of mastectomy, the majority of the skin can be preserved and just the chest muscle needs to be stretched to provide coverage for an implant. Once the size of the balloon has been expanded to a size agreed upon by the patient and your surgeon, an actual implant is placed where the balloon expander was previously.
This is a common method of breast reconstruction. It is used especially when there is not enough skin or tissue to support an implant that would restore a natural looking breast. There are several benefits: it’s the same skin you already have, so the color and texture of the skin matches the rest of your chest; no transplant was involved, so there is a much smaller risk that the skin will die; minimal incisions are required, so there is less scarring.
The initial operation to insert the expander takes no more than two hours. The surgeon will first make a small incision in the skin next to the area to be expanded. The silicone balloon will then be inserted in the pocket created beneath the skin and the muscle. Within the balloon is a valve that allows saline solution to be inserted into the expander directly. Once you are healed from this minor procedure, you will make periodic visits to your surgeon so the expander can have more and more saline solution inserted, causing the balloon to expand. When the skin is expanded enough, you will have a second minor operation to remove the balloon and insert the actual implant.
The entire procedure from start to finish is non-invasive and should not affect your daily routine. Most patients report minor discomfort lasting up to two hours following each saline injection, but are still able to function normally. Even after the procedure where the balloon is removed and implant is inserted, most patients are back to normal activity within a week.
For more information about tissue expander-based reconstruction, call our office at (702) 671-5110 or schedule your appointment online today.