Breast Reconstruction with Tissue Expanders | MedStar Health
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To help prepare for the insertion of a breast implant, you may undergo a breast reconstruction with tissue expanders. This technique involves the stretching of breast skin and muscle using tissue-expanding implants similar to balloons. By stretching the skin and muscle, your surgeon can form a recreation of your breast shape.

During the surgery, a MedStar Health surgeon will insert an expander beneath your chest muscle and fill the implant with saline. Over the course of one to two months, you may need to revisit us to have the implant filled with more saline for further expansion. Once your breast(s) reaches the desired size, a second surgical procedure will be conducted to replace the tissue expander with a permanent implant.

While breast reconstruction with tissue expanders requires more visits to our medical centers, it comes with the benefit of a shorter recovery period and more satisfying results. We find that many of our patients prefer this method of breast reconstruction because of the ease and flexibility to choose their desired size.

Planning and recovery

Before you even have your mastectomy, you can speak to your doctor about breast reconstruction. This gives your breast and reconstructive surgeon an opportunity to work together to create a surgical strategy that is specially developed with your needs in mind.

When going over your choices, you will be presented with several surgical options and receive an explanation on the differences between each one. You will be given a recommendation based on your body type and health status.

Because reconstruction with tissue expanders doesn’t involve transplanting tissue from another spot on your body, this procedure has a shorter recovery period than other breast reconstruction options. You may not even have to stay overnight when receiving your permanent implant. However, you should still expect to be healing for several weeks after your procedure. You may also experience some discomfort during the expansion process.

While you heal, swelling will gradually decrease and your breast shape will improve. Medication to control the pain and drainage tubes to remove excess fluids may be necessary for a short time. Any drainage tubes should be left in place until your doctor decides it is okay to safely remove them.

Our locations

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MedStar Health: Plastic Surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

3800 Reservoir Road NW,
BLES Building
1st. Floor
Washington, D.C., 20007


MedStar Health: Plastic Surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center

106 Irving St. NW
POB North
Ste. 3400
Washington, D.C., 20010

MedStar Health: Plastic Surgery at McLean

6862 Elm Street
Suite 800
McLean, VA 22101


Frequently asked questions

  • Is this procedure covered by insurance?

    Thanks to the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) of 1998, all group health plans that cover mastectomies are also required to cover reconstructive procedures. In addition, breast reconstruction is covered under Medicare and in some states may also be covered by Medicaid. However, not all of your procedure cost may be covered by insurance. Contact your insurance carrier to ensure your coverage.

  • Do I need a referral to your office?

    If you’re exploring options for insurance coverage, you may need to request a referral from your primary care doctor, depending on your health insurance plan. Check with your carrier to see if medical coverage is an option for you and, if so, whether a referral is required.

  • What are the risks?

    As with any surgery, breast reconstruction with tissue expanders presents a few risks. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, these include:

    • Anesthesia complications
    • Bleeding
    • Breast firmness (capsular contracture)
    • Implant leakage or rupture
    • Infection
    • Scarring
  • How should I prepare for surgery?

    Before surgery, you may be asked to get blood tests and take or adjust medications. If you smoke, quitting will help you heal faster and better avoid complications.