Tissue (Skin) Expansion after Mastectomy
A Guide for Preparation and Home Care
Tissue expansion is a means of stretching
the skin or muscle of the chest to allow for
an implant. It can be done at the time of the
mastectomy or later. During surgery, an
expander is put beneath the skin. Over 3 to
6 months, the device is slowly inflated using
salt water. As the expander is inflated, the
tissue stretches. This is done in the doctor’s
A second surgery is needed to remove the
expander. At the same time, the implant is
Planning for Surgery
ξ Plan to take off work for 2-4 weeks.
It depends on the type of work that
you do. Avoid strenuous activity for
about 4 weeks.
ξ Do any household and outdoor
chores ahead of time or make plans
for someone to help you.
ξ Plan meals that are easy to prepare.
ξ Eat well. Healthy eating helps
ξ You will have “drains” or small
tubes placed during surgery to drain
away excess fluid. The drains may
stay in for up to one week. Your
nurse will show you how to take care
of them before you go home.
▪ Wear loose comfortable clothing for
a few days. We suggest shirts that
button down the front.
▪ Plan to visit your surgeon in 2 – 5
days and every couple of weeks for
the next few months.
1. You may go home with a dry dressing
over your incision. This dressing needs
to be removed each day. A new gauze
dressing should be put on as needed.
After one or two days, no dressing is
needed unless there is drainage coming
from your incision or you are more
comfortable with the incision covered.
2. You will be told about bathing and when
you can get your incisions wet. This is
most often 1-2 days after your surgery.
3. Most often, stitches will dissolve. You
will be told which type of stitches you
have, in case you have some that need to
4. Watch for signs of infection.
ξ Redness and swelling at the site.
ξ Warmth to touch.
ξ Increasing pain that does not go
away when you take your pain
ξ Drainage that has pus like
appearance to it or a foul smell.
ξ Temperature greater than 100.5 θ F
for two readings taken 4 hours apart.
The Expansion Process
The expansion process most often begins 2-
4 weeks after surgery. A breast expander is
the inflatable device placed beneath the skin.
A needle will be put through the skin to
place saline into the expander. Patients are
often numb at this site. During this process
your skin will be checked for changes in
color, warmth, and excess tightness. If you
have any pain or trouble breathing while the
saline is being put in, you should tell your
doctor or nurse.
You can expect to return to the clinic every
1 – 2 weeks to repeat this process until the
tissue (skin) is enlarged enough for
placement of a permanent breast implant.
The tissue is over-expanded to make space
for the permanent implant. The tissue
expansion process should take 3 to 5
months. Often, the expander will produce
an “unusual breast shape”. Do not be
alarmed as the purpose is only to stretch the
underlying tissues. Seldom do they appear
as a normal breast. This should be achieved
when the final implant is placed.
▪ Strenuous exercises should be
avoided for 4-6 weeks.
▪ You should not drive while you are
taking prescription pain medicine.
▪ Do not lift anything greater than five
(5) pounds for 1-2 weeks.
When to Call the Doctor
▪ A fever over 100.5ºF for two
readings taken 4 hours apart.
▪ Increased pain not controlled with
▪ Nausea and vomiting.
▪ Wound drainage that contains pus or
▪ Redness or increased tenderness
along the suture line.
If you have questions or concerns call us.
Plastic Surgery Clinic: Mon. – Fri.
8:00am–4:30pm (608) 263-7502.
After hours this number is answered by the
paging operator. Ask for the Plastic Surgery
Resident on call. Give the operator your
name and phone number with the area code.
The doctor will call you back.
If you live out of the area, please call:
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 2/2017 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4534