Reconstructive surgery is not a simple process, and it involves taking many steps to make the outcome look as natural as possible. Often, surgeons require a grafting material to cover injuries, and if possible, this is best taken from the patient’s own body, to minimize the chance for rejection and to create the most consistent appearance. This is especially true for facial reconstruction, as aesthetics in this area are so visible and contribute to confidence and self-esteem. Tissue expansion is a technique used to “grow” more skin to be used in reconstructing the body. But how does that work, especially for facial reconstruction?
What is Tissue Expansion?
The tissue expansion procedure involves the insertion of a silicone balloon underneath the skin in the area where the extra skin will be generated for reconstructive purposes, such as in an area of the scalp. Following this, regular (typically weekly) injections of saline solution will take place, prompting the skin to slowly stretch out and increase in volume. The process typically takes a total of 3-4 months, at which time, the balloon can be removed and the skin used in reconstructive surgery.
The Skin’s Flexibility
The skin is the body’s largest organ, and is very flexible and elastic, to accommodate growth and weight gain or loss throughout life. Because of this, it is possible to gradually stretch out the skin and “grow” more skin by expansion. This flexibility also makes it possible to use the skin in a variety of reconstruction procedures. Once transplanted, living skin will become established, thanks to the blood supply that goes along with it.
Uses in Facial Reconstruction
One of the most common uses for tissue expansion in facial reconstruction is in preparation for skin cancer repair. Surgical treatment for skin cancer often leaves the face and scalp with small lesions that need to be repaired by an expert plastic surgeon. If the lesions are on the scalp, it is preferable to repair with hair-bearing skin that will retain its blood supply. For this reason, tissue expansion is often begun in preparation for this procedure, so the surgeries can be done at or around the same time. While skin cancer repair is one of the most common uses for tissue expansion, the procedure can also be used for other types of reconstruction on nearly any area of the body.
Challenges of Tissue Expansion
One of the biggest challenges for tissue expansion patients is the embarrassment of the appearance of the balloon, which can be difficult to hide and looks like a large lump under the skin. There is also the inconvenience of regular injections, and the minor discomfort that is involved with those sessions, as well as immediately afterward. Finally, the patient must undergo multiple surgeries involved with the expansion process and reconstruction. The good news is that the safety record of this procedure is very good, with complications rare. Should the balloon leak, the saline solution poses no risk to the patient, and the surgeries involved are usually fairly minor.
Despite the challenges of tissue expansion, it is also an effective procedure that helps facilitate great results, and most patients find the hassle of the treatment worth it in the end when they see the final results of the reconstruction.
A Result You Can Be Proud Of
If you are in need of facial reconstruction, you should leave nothing to chance. Only trust an experienced, board certified facial plastic surgeon who can walk you through the intense and often emotional process of facial reconstruction. It takes great talent to create good outcomes for patients, and you should not settle for less than a specialist, like Dr. Stuart Bentkover of Bentkover Facial Plastic Surgery in Worcester (508-363-6500) or Stoneham (617-247-0033), MA.
Dr. Bentkover has been specializing in facial reconstruction for skin cancer patients for years, and has become an expert in tissue expansion procedures. If you would like to discuss your goals for facial reconstruction with Dr. Bentkover, call either location today to schedule your consultation.