American Society of Plastic Surgeons
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Tissue Expansion

Growing Extra Skin for Reconstruction

Tissue expansion enables the body to "grow" extra skin for use in reconstructing almost any part of the body.

Tissue expansion procedure steps

In most cases, the initial operation will take one to two hours, depending on the size and area of skin to be expanded. Your surgeon will begin by making a small incision next to the area of skin to be repaired, and will do everything possible to make the incision as inconspicuous as possible.

He or she will then insert the silicone balloon expander in a pocket created beneath the skin. The expander includes a tiny tube and a self-sealing valve that allows the surgeon to gradually fill the expander with saline solution. The valve is usually left just beneath the surface of the skin.

Expander Enlarges

Once the incision has healed, you'll be asked to return to your surgeon's office periodically so that the expander can be injected with additional saline. As the expander enlarges, your skin will stretch. In some people, this procedure can causes minor discomfort.

Secondary Operation

When the skin has stretched enough to cover the affected area, you'll have a second operation to remove the expander and reposition the new tissue. In breast reconstruction, the surgery required to remove the expander and insert the permanent implant is relatively brief. More complex surgery to repair skin on the face or scalp will take longer, and may require more than one expansion sequence to complete.

Example 1: Scalp

Tissue Expansion is ideal for scalp repair because the stretched skin on the scalp retains normal hair growth. Most other body tissue does not grow hair to the same degree.

Example 2: Breast

A silicone balloon expander is inserted beneath the skin. Once in place, the expander is gradually filled with salt water through a tiny valve. When the tissue has grown to the desired amount, the expander is removed. In breast reconstruction, a permanent implant is then inserted.

Example 3: Arm

Expansion is also used to repair skin on the head and neck, hands, arms, and legs.

Tissue expansion



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