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Over the past few years, there have been several new procedures that are allowing surgeons to repair faces, noses and other parts of the body. Each day, new methods are being created and tested, to ensure that people who have had to lose their appearance to illness or trauma. Today, one of the most cutting edge methods happens to be something that is being referred to as tissue expansion.

As simple as it might sound on paper, there is actually a lot of technique and science involved in tissue expansion, and in this two part article we will look at every aspect of the same.

What is tissue expansion?

In the simplest of terms, tissue expansion is a method by which new skin is grown, which can be used to reconstruct any body part. The procedure for tissue expansion is this – a balloon expander, which has a silicone base, is inserted right under the skin. The area is one which needs to be repaired. Over a period of time, this balloon is filled with salt water and that leads to the skin to stretch.

This is a method that is most commonly used for reconstruction of breasts, especially after a mastectomy. The same procedure can also be used to repair birth defects, damages caused due to accidents or other surgeries and even for certain cosmetic surgeries.

Who would be the ideal candidate for tissue expansion?

Tissue expansion is actually a process that can be used to help almost anyone, because it can be used regardless of age and gender. As a matter of fact, tissue expansion can be used to help infants as well as the elderly. Here’s who would be the ideal candidate for the procedure:

  • Case studies have shown that tissue expansion is a great way of reconstructing parts of the face, neck, arms, hands and legs.
  • The same method can be used to repair or even replace portions of the scalp, where hair growth might not be happening. There is a chance that skin harvested from other parts of the body would not work properly on the scalp.
  • This procedure has been used quite extensively for breast reconstruction, especially when there is not sufficient skin to cover the implant. Tissue expansion could actually help restore the natural appearance of a woman’s chest area.

Tissue expansion could be a tad bit more difficult in areas of the body, where the skin is thicker, because that kind of skin will not expand as easily. In addition, if the area has been damaged too much or the scarring is too extensive, then too, tissue expansion might not be an option, because for the process to be a success, healthy tissue is the first requirement.

What are the advantages of tissue expansion?

There was once a time, when the only methods of covering scars and wounds were through skin grafts or by using the method of skin flaps. Today, however, there are more modern methods and tissue expansion is one of them. There are several benefits of tissue expansion and the major ones include:

  • Since there is no cutting of skin and placing it somewhere else, there is a less of surgery required.
  • Since there is no cutting of skin, there are no or minimal scars.
  • Since it is your skin that is being expanded, there is almost a perfect match in terms of skin colour, texture and even the manner in which the hair will grow.
  • Since the skin is constantly connected with nerves and blood supply, there is minimal chance of the pulled skin dying.

What are the disadvantages of tissue expansion?

 If there are advantages, there are bound to be a few disadvantages too and tissue expansion has a few drawbacks too. The very first of them happens to be the fact that tissue expansion takes time, because skin has to grow back and that is not something that will happen overnight. The process can normally take anywhere between two to four months.

The expander that is inserted underneath the skin tends to create a mild bulge, which would be desirable for surgeries such as breast enlargement or breast reconstruction. However, in any other condition, this bulge would look off and quite noticeable.

Multiple trips to the surgeon will be required, because salt water has to be injected multiple times, before the skin stretches to the maximum.

What will happen during consultations for tissue expansion?

 When you meet the surgeon for the very first time, they will undertake a detailed evaluation, wherein they will check your age, your medical history and also your skin condition. You might also be asked to undergo a few medical tests and blood tests might also be recommended. These will allow your doctor to decide whether you would be a good enough candidate for the surgery or not.  These will tell the surgeon whether you are a good enough candidate for tissue expansion and whether it will work effectively for you.

Your level of flexibility and how well you will be able to tolerate the inconveniences that are associated with tissue expansion. It is important that you talk to your surgeon before you decide to have the procedure, because there are lot of questions that you will need to ask and have clarified beforehand.

In the continuing part of the article, we will look at other aspects of tissue expansion, including the procedural steps, recovery and possible side effects and risks. 


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