Tissue expanders are exactly what they sound like, they are medical devices that expand tissue. In the context of plastic and reconstructive surgery, tissue expanders more specifically are temporary, empty implants that are placed immediately following a mastectomy. The goal of placing a tissue expander post-mastectomy is to increase the amount of tissue the surgeon has to work with when placing a breast implant in the reconstructive surgery in the near future by stretching the surrounding skin and tissues. The art of doing a two stage breast reconstruction with tissue expanders is that the body’s own tissue can be stretched and ultimately used to aid in the implant placement procedure that occurs later.
In general tissue expanders look a lot like a breast implants except they are empty until filled and have a harder outer shell. They also have multiple tabs around the edge that get sutured into place during the tissue expander placement procedure.
One key feature of tissue expanders is that they have a magnetically detectable port in the center that allow for saline to be filled into them after surgical closure of all incisions. Tissue expanders can be filled over the course of a couple months to meet the desired fill point all while keeping the patient comfortable. Each patient and their fill points vary and the time/number of visits it takes to reach those fill points varies as well! Saline can also be removed from tissue expanders to meet the patients comfort levels and desired outcomes.
Once the tissue expanders have had enough fills and enough time to allocate room for permanent implants, it is time to schedule stage two of the tissue expander journey. Tissue expanders are temporary devices as mentioned. They get removed during the second stage of the two part reconstructive procedure. At which point once the tissue expanders are removed and the permanent breast implants will then be placed.
If you’re considering a two stage breast reconstruction, or any other plastic surgery contact our clinic at 312-694-0879 or through the request form in the header to request a consultation with board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. John Kim.