What Are Breast Tissue Expanders?

Breast tissue expanders are temporary implants commonly used to reconstruct a patient’s breasts after mastectomy. A surgeon will place tissue expanders in a patient’s breasts prior to implants or microvascular flap reconstruction. Then, months later, the surgeon will remove the tissue expanders and replace them with implants. Breast tissue expanders are a common way to prepare a patient’s chest for permanent breast implants post-mastectomy. If your doctor recommends breast tissue expanders, find out what to expect during your procedure.

The First of a Two-Stage Breast Implant Process

Breast implants are the most minimal option for breast reconstruction after mastectomy. They do not require tissue transplantation or muscle relocation. Some women prefer immediate breast reconstruction using tissue expanders and implants, while others prefer to wait a while after their mastectomies. Waiting could come with options such as breast prostheses bras. Reconstruction using expanders and implants can take longer than other breast reconstruction methods, but it can come with the fastest recovery times.

A breast tissue expander is a device with an internal reservoir or external port to accommodate carbon dioxide release or saline injections. Tissue expanders slowly stretch the skin of the breast over time. Most patients require tissue expanders for two to six months before receiving breast implants. Tissue expanders will eventually match the size and shape of the intended breast implants. Like implants, tissue expanders can have smooth or textured surfaces.

What To Expect During Your Procedure

If your doctor recommends tissue expanders, you will undergo an operation in which the surgeon places a balloon-like device beneath or on top of your pectoral muscle at the time of mastectomy. You will then return to the physician’s office periodically over the next few months to receive injections of additional saline (or carbon dioxide) into the tissue expander. This process gradually expands the tissues of the breasts to prepare them for the permanent implant.

Newer breast tissue expander products may not use the injection of saline, but rather carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide expanders have internal reservoirs filled with gas. A doctor can use a remote control to activate the release of carbon dioxide from the reservoir into the tissue expander. You will still visit the doctor every one to two weeks for expansion, but the carbon dioxide method may not cause as much discomfort as the saline method. With both methods, however, you may experience pressure or discomfort as your breast tissues expand.

The amount of time you will need expanders depends on many factors, including the quality of your skin and the size of the implants you wish to receive. Once your skin has expanded the correct amount, you will undergo a second surgery to replace the balloon-like tissue expander with a permanent saline or silicone breast implant. The permanent implant will sit in the same place as your expander, where the skin has created room to accommodate the implant. Making sure the implant fits properly in the space created can help prevent future complications such as capsular contracture.

Complications From Breast Tissue Expanders

Although most women receive tissue expanders and breast implants without complications, some could encounter serious issues that compromise the breast reconstruction procedure. One example that is a cause for concern is Allergan’s voluntary recall of its BIOCELL® textured tissue expanders. Effective as of July 24th, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration is recommending health care providers no longer use BIOCELL® textured tissue expanders due to the potential risk of developing a serious and rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Textured breast tissue expanders by Allergan could cause breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) in patients. If a doctor has recently diagnosed you or a loved one with BIA-ALCL in Southern California, our attorneys may be able to prove Allergan’s liability for your damages. A product liability lawsuit against Allergan or another tissue expander manufacturing company could help you obtain financial relief during this difficult time. Contact us to request a free, confidential legal consultation.

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