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Implant Reconstruction

A breast implant is a round or teardrop-shaped shell, filled with saline (salt-water) or silicone gel. The implant is placed behind the pectoralis major chest muscle in a manner similar to what occurs during breast augmentation surgery.

In a select group of women, implants may be placed as a one-stage process, where a permanent implant is used at the time of the mastectomy. However, most women require a two-stage process, using a tissue expander before the permanent implant is placed.

A tissue expander is an implant with a valve/port that can be filled with saline to stretch the remaining chest skin and soft tissues to make room for the breast implant. The tissue expander is placed under the pectoralis major muscle at the time of your mastectomy. After the incisions have healed, a small valve/port is accessed and saline is injected into the expander during several office visits, usually over a 6-8 week period of time. This gradual stretching creates more skin and soft tissue, not unlike how the skin of the abdomen stretches during a pregnancy. The tissue expander is filled until it is slightly larger than the desired size to assure that the skin and soft tissue can accommodate the permanent implant. At a second surgery, the tissue expander is replaced with a permanent saline or silicone implant.

The advantage of this type of reconstruction is that the initial surgery is shorter, on average adding only 1-2 hours to the mastectomy surgery and typically requiring only a single day of hospitalization. Since this technique does not involve removal of tissue from another site of your body, it does not create any additional scars or potential donor-site morbidity (see below for more details).

The disadvantage of this approach is that it typically involves a tissue expander, which requires at least 2 surgical stages and multiple visits to our office during the expansion process. There are instances where this may be more challenging for the patient than a recovery from a latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction (see below). In addition, an implant does not have the same shape and feel of a natural breast, so that it may make matching the opposite breast more difficult (for patients only having a unilateral [one-sided] mastectomy). As opposed to other types of reconstruction this type of surgery may produce a higher risk of early complications when performed as immediate breast reconstruction. In the short-term, the implant can become infected or malpositioned, which may require surgery to correct these problems. In the longer-term, implants may eventually require subsequent procedures to replace them due to hardening around the implant (capsular contracture), rupture, or malposition.