It is a rather sad fact that breast cancer is all too common among women. It is the most common type of cancer found in women worldwide. One out of every eight women will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer at some point in her life. These statistics clearly show the toll that breast cancer can take among women of all ages.

To add to this, many of these women will end up undergoing either a partial or a full mastectomy in order to remove the cancerous breast tissue. Such a surgery is very invasive, often leaving women feeling disfigured. This will only add to the burden of breast cancer.

Fortunately, advances in reconstructive plastic surgery can help women regain some of what breast cancer took from them. Reconstructed breasts can look every bit as natural as real ones. Furthermore, breast reconstruction does not necessarily mean extensive, complicated, multiple surgeries, as is the case with donor tissue, flap-reconstruction techniques. Reconstruction can instead be accomplished using breast implants. Although some patients may not be able to undergo a mastectomy and breast reconstruction at the same time, the use of tissue expanders for later reconstruction is still less complicated than flap reconstruction.

Breast Implant Reconstruction

This technique works much the same as with a standard breast implant procedure. The implants, which will be placed behind the chest wall (subpectoral), serve as the structure for reconstructing the breast lost to partial or full mastectomy. The incision pattern is the same as the one used for the mastectomy, so it is unlikely that there will be further scarring from the reconstruction procedure. The one caveat is that there must be enough breast tissue remaining after a mastectomy to fully cover the implants. This can be a problem for women with slight frames and narrow chests. In such cases, Dr. Pin would use what is known as a tissue expander to provide enough breast tissue to cover the implants.

How Does a Tissue Expander Work?

If there is not enough remaining breast tissue after the mastectomy procedure, Dr. Pin will place a tissue expander into the area of remaining tissue from where the breast was removed. It consists of the unfilled expander and a catheter tube, leading out of the body.

A tissue expander works similarly to a balloon. Dr. Pin will hook the exterior end of the catheter to a syringe, and then slowly inflate the tissue expander with saline during subsequent office visits. Over time, this will stretch the breast tissue to create enough room for breast implantation at a later date. This process is done gradually, over the course of anywhere from two to six months.

Cautions with Use of Tissue Expanders

Patients may experience some chest tightness or soreness for the first several days after the expander is inflated. This is perfectly normal, as the breast tissue may be rigid and resist being stretched at first. If the pain persists or worsens, make a follow-up appointment with Dr. Pin.

Patients who will be undergoing radiation therapy following surgery should not have an implant with any metal, particularly around the area of the port (where the catheter exits the body). Radiation can cause the metal to react poorly with the skin, causing damage.

The advantages of breast reconstruction using implants over donor tissue flap-reconstruction surgery are numerous. Implant reconstruction is less involved, requires fewer surgeries, and has less risk of infection. The use of tissue expanders allows women with little remaining breast tissue to be able to undergo implant reconstruction at a later date.