What does a tissue expander do before breast reconstruction?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year and a half ago. I had a double mastectomy and am now left with a flat chest. I was never big chested but in order to get my breasts reconstructed my plastic surgeon said I would need to use a tissue expander. Why is this needed for breast reconstruction? Is it painful?


F, 48, New Jersey

Tags:woman age 45-54 pain flat breast cancer double mastectomy tissue expander

Hi.  The expander is used to slowly stretch the chest muscle and skin so it can accommodate an implant which will provide a nice breast reconstruction for you.  There are other ways to do breast reconstruction without tissue expanders, but you would have to find out from your PS if you are a candidate for one of these alternatives.  One option is to put the implants on top of the muscle in a "wrap" of cadaver skin, and this can be done in one operation without tissue expansion in some instances.  You can also find out if you are a candidate for having reconstruction with your own skin and fat so that you don't need an implant.  It never hurts to get a second opinion if your surgeon since you aren't under any time pressure to get it done.  Best of luck!