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Breast Reconstruction – Tissue Expander/Implant

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​​​​​​​​In this guide

If you've been scheduled for a breast reconstruction operation using a tissue expander or implant, you probably have some questions. Our guide offers the answers you're looking for, and helps you prepare for your operation. Preparation and post-operative care is the same for tissue expander(s) and implant(s).


About the Operation

Implant-based reconstruction is done in two stages. The first stage is inserting the tissue expander under the pectoral muscle (chest muscle). The tissue expander is used to stretch the skin and muscle to create a pocket for the permanent implant. After two weeks, once your incisions are healed, your plastic surgeon will start inflating the tissue expander with normal saline (salt water). The expansion process will take place every one to two weeks in the clinic.

Normal saline is injected into the tissue expander to stretch the skin and muscle to create space for the permanent implant.
Using a needle and syringe, normal saline is injected into the tissue expander to stretch the skin and muscle to create space for the permanent implant.
Permanent implant-based breast reconstruction
Permanent implant-based breast reconstruction

After the last expansion, there is a healing phase of approximately 3 months before the tissue expander is removed and a permanent implant is put in place.


Planning for your operation

If you were given a prescription, and asked by your plastic surgeon to wash your skin with antibiotic soap, please wash your chest area (from the collar bone down to your belly button) every day starting 7 days before your operation.

Your surgeon will discuss with you if you need to purchase a supportive surgical bra. You will be asked to bring this with you to your operation.


How long will I stay in the hospital?

  • For tissue expander insertion at the same time as mastectomy (immediate breast reconstruction) – overnight hospital stay.
  • For tissue expander exchange to permanent implant – day surgery (you will go home the same day of your surgery).
  • For tissue expander insertion after having a previous mastectomy (delayed breast reconstruction) – day surgery (you will go home the same day as your surgery).

How lo​ng will it take to recover?

The average recovery for tissue expander insertion is 3 to 4 weeks. You will be unable to do any heavy lifting of more than 10 lbs for 4 to 6 weeks after your operation. As well, you will be unable to lift anything over 10 lbs for the first 24 hours after your tissue expander inflation.

The recovery for implant insertion is 2 to 3 weeks. You will be unable to do any heavy lifting of more than 10 lbs for 4 to 6 weeks after your operation.

Download a printable version of the full guide:
Breast Reconstruction ​​​