When a mastectomy is performed, the breast tissue is removed. In many cases, the nipple and some breast skin also are removed. A device called a tissue expander may be temporarily placed under the pectoral muscle of the chest and inflated over time to stretch out the remaining muscle and skin. In some cases, the tissue expander may be supported by a specially prepared biologic material known as an acellular dermal matrix.
In suitable candidates, the tissue expander is later replaced with an implant. A patient’s own tissues also can be used as a flap to help build a new breast. This is particularly true if radiation therapy is a part of the cancer treatment plan.
The procedure to place tissue expanders is performed under general anesthesia and takes about 60 minutes to complete for one breast and about 90 minutes for both breasts. Patients are hospitalized for one or two days and can return to work after two to four weeks.
Common side effects include bruising, swelling and irregularities in breast shape immediately after surgery. These irregularities should improve as the tissue expander is progressively inflated. Delayed wound healing and infections also may occur.