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Breast Reconstruction with Implants and Expanders

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Apr 2, 2024.

What do I need to know about breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction is surgery to rebuild one or both breasts with implants. Breast reconstruction may be done at the same time as a mastectomy or in a separate surgery. You may need to have a tissue expander, or balloon like sac, placed in each breast before an implant is placed. Expanders are slowly filled with saline over 2 to 3 months. This helps stretch the tissue and make room for an implant. The tissue expander may be removed and replaced with an implant in a later surgery. Saline (salt water) implants, silicone gel implants, or a combination may be used to rebuild the breast.

How do I prepare for breast reconstruction?

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for surgery. You may need to stop taking blood thinners or aspirin several days before surgery. Your provider may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your surgery. He or she may tell you to shower the night before your surgery. He or she may tell you to use a certain soap to help prevent a surgical site infection. He or she will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your surgery. Ask your healthcare provider if you will need to stay in the hospital after surgery. Arrange for someone to drive you home and stay with you for 48 hours. They may need to help you cook, bathe and dress. They can call 911 or drive you to the hospital if there is a complication from surgery.

What will happen during breast reconstruction?

You will be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during surgery. You may be given an antibiotic through your IV to help prevent a bacterial infection. If you are having an expander placed, your healthcare provider will make an incision and insert the expander under your muscle. If an implant will be placed, your healthcare provider will make an incision in your breast and make a space under the chest muscle. The implant will be placed into the space. Your healthcare provider may insert 1 or more drains near the incision to help remove extra fluid. This may prevent swelling and help your incision heal. He or she will close your incision with stitches and cover it with a bandage.

What will happen after breast reconstruction?

Healthcare providers will monitor you until you are awake. Bruising and swelling are normal and expected. You may be able to go home after surgery or you may need to spend a night in the hospital.

What are the risks of breast reconstruction?

You may bleed more than expected or get an infection. Nerves, muscles, or blood vessels may be damaged during your surgery. Fluid or blood may collect under your skin. You may need surgery to drain or remove it. Your implant may move out of place or leak fluid. You may need surgery to replace or remove your implant. You may get a blood clot in your arm, leg, or lung. This may become life-threatening.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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