Breast Reconstruction and Tissue Expanders By Julie Vasile, M.D. on November 14, 2013

Stamford Tissue ExpandersWomen who have undergone a mastectomy during breast cancer treatment are left with a vacant space on the chest that, for many, is similar to the loss of a limb. This is seen by many patients as a deformity that sets them apart from other women. Dr. Julie Vasile is a Stamford plastic surgeon who specializes in breast reconstruction because she believes that all women, especially those whose strength and bravery have gotten them through cancer treatment, deserve to have a body that makes them feel confident and beautiful. The most common reconstruction technique, implant reconstruction, is often a two-part procedure, which begins with the placement of tissue expanders.

What Are Tissue Expanders?

Tissue expanders, which are temporary, inflatable breast implants, are commonly required when patients will be undergoing implant reconstruction. Tissue expanders are an important step in implant reconstruction because they stretch the chest pectoralis muscle and breast skin in order to accommodate a breast implant.

The Procedure

During an initial procedure, the chest pectoralis muscle is cut so that the muscle can be lifted off the ribs. Tissue expanders are then placed under the muscle. Once the tissue expanders are in place, patients will return to the office periodically. Over several visits, the tissue expanders will be gradually filled with a saline solution. Tissue expanders are often used for a period of several weeks, and sometimes months. The implants will be continued to be filled in order to stretch the skin and muscle until the breast is ready to accommodate a breast implant.

When the breast has been adequately stretched, the second part of the implant reconstruction procedure will be scheduled. During a second procedure, the tissue expanders will be removed and replaced with a final breast implant. The pectoral muscle will be lifted off the chest wall and the implant will be placed beneath so that the chest muscle will cover the upper portion of the breast implant, giving a more natural look and feel to the breast.

The lower portion of the breast implant can be covered by cutting and raising a portion of the rectus muscle from the abdomen or serratus muscle from the side of the chest. Other times a piece of cadaveric skin (dermis layer of skin), that has been processed to remove cellular elements, is used to cover the lower portion of an implant.

Side Effects

Because implant reconstruction with tissue expanders will require two procedures, patients should be prepared for the side effects that will follow each procedure. Once the tissue expanders are in place, patients are likely to experience side effects, which include:

  • Stretching sensation
  • A feeling of pressure in the chest area
  • Discomfort

Most patients report that these symptoms are not too uncomfortable to handle. Following the second procedure, which will involve the implant placement, patients will experience side effects similar to those of breast augmentation. These symptoms may include bruising, swelling, and discomfort.

Schedule a Consultation

Implant reconstruction is just one of the options available to patients who have undergone a mastectomy. We invite you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Julie Vasile at your earliest convenience to learn more about the breast reconstruction options that are available to you. We look forward to meeting you!

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