Breast Reconstruction with Tissue Expanders
Most implant reconstruction involves use of temporary saline implants called tissue expanders that are used to gradually stretch the chest skin and muscle to make room for a fixed-sized implant. Similar expanders are commonly used by plastic surgeons to rebuild damaged facial features and replace tissue damaged or burned.
Empty expanders are placed under the pectoral muscle, and inflated with a small amount of saline. This pushes the muscle forward and creates a little bulge. Over several weeks, this "starter" breast grows as more saline is gradually introduced into the expander during visits to the surgeon's office. The chest muscle and breast skin stretch to accommodate each new infusion of saline, thus creating an increasingly bigger pocket behind the muscle.
Most women complete the expansion process in six to eight weeks. Your own interval may be shorter or longer, depending on how much your skin must stretch to accommodate your implant and how well you tolerate the process.
Once the expanders are filled to the desired volume, they are allowed to "settle" for several weeks. Then, in a brief operation, they are replaced with fixed-size breast implants.
Do-it-yourself expanders (sort of)
A new type of expander gives patients more control over their own expansion.
With FDA-approved AeroForm expanders (manufactured and marketed by AirXpanders), women use a wireless remote control to release up to 30cc of carbon dioxide per day (3 doses of 10cc each) into their exanders. They control when, where and how much they expand their breasts, while eliminating doctor visits for saline fills. (Your surgeon may want to see you once or twice during the expansion process to make sure you're progressing adequately without problems.)
During clinical trials, women completed AeroForm expansion on average in 17 days, compared to several weeks with the traditional method of surgeon-filled expanders. The expansion timeline depends on the condition of your breast skin and how often you trigger a release of carbon dioxide. In a clinical trial, tissue expansion with the AeroForm for all sizes took an average of 21 days as compared to 46 days for saline expanders.