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Breast Reconstruction With Expander or Implant: Before Your Surgery

Picture of a tissue expander and breast implant after mastectomy

What is breast reconstruction with an expander or implant?

Breast reconstruction is a type of surgery. It rebuilds your breast after you've had part or all of a breast removed. It is often done for women who have cancer. But women who have problems with breast development can also have this surgery. It usually takes more than one surgery to rebuild a breast. You and your doctor will plan your surgery or surgeries based on your wishes and your health.

In this type of surgery, the doctor uses a device called an implant. The implant gives your breast its shape. The nipple and the darker area around it (areola) are usually created later.

In some cases, an implant is placed during the same surgery that removes the breast. In other cases, a tissue expander is inserted right after the breast is removed. The expander is used to stretch the skin to make room for the implant. This stretching happens over a period of months. Every 1 to 2 weeks, the expander is filled with a little more salt water or air. Once the tissues have stretched enough so the implant will fit, your doctor will remove the expander and insert the implant.

You will probably be asleep during the surgery. And you may get a medicine that numbs the breast area. The doctor will do his or her best to make cuts in places on your body that won't be seen. These cuts are called incisions. Sometimes the doctor uses the same incisions that were used to remove the cancer. The incisions leave scars that fade with time.

After surgery, you will probably go home the same day or the next day. Many women can go back to work or their normal routine in 3 to 6 weeks. But it depends on the type of work you do.

Your new breast will look and feel different after surgery. With an implant, your breast will likely not have any feeling. Your new breast may be more firm, round, or flat than your other breast. It may also not look the same as the breast that was removed. Some women have surgery on the other breast to make them look as alike as possible.

Women who aren't able to have a nipple-sparing mastectomy have options if they want their new breast to have a nipple and areola. You can have surgery to create a nipple out of tissue. A tattoo can add colour to the raised nipple and create an areola. Another option is a tattoo of a nipple and areola that creates a 3-dimensional look. Or you may use a prosthetic nipple and areola that attaches temporarily to your breast.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if you should stop taking it before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do. These medicines increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

Having surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect and how to safely prepare for surgery.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking, or your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor has instructed you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, please do so using only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do NOT shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Remove all jewellery, piercings, and contact lenses.
  • Leave your valuables at home.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • Before surgery you will be asked to repeat your full name, what surgery you are having, and what part of your body is being operated on. Your doctor will use a marker to draw lines on your breast. He or she will use these lines during surgery to rebuild your breast.
  • Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family has a history of blood clots. If so, you may get a blood thinner before surgery and have special stockings on your legs after surgery.
  • A small tube (IV) will be placed in a vein, to give you fluids and medicine to help you relax. Because of the combination of medicines given to keep you comfortable, you may not remember much about the operating room.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may range from making you fully asleep, to simply numbing the area being worked on. This will depend on the procedure you are having, as well as a discussion between your doctor, the anesthesia provider, and you.
  • The surgery will take 1 to 2 hours.
  • As you wake up in the recovery room, the nurse will check to be sure you are stable and comfortable. It is important for you to tell your doctor and nurse how you feel and ask questions about any concerns you may have.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.