‘Do-It-Yourself’ Tissue Expansion Now Available
In December 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would allow marketing of a new tissue expander for women getting breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. The technology, called the AeroForm Tissue Expander System, is made by AirXpanders.
In June 2017, AirXpanders announced AeroForm had become available in more than 100 medical institutions and health systems in the U.S.
Some women have their breasts rebuilt, called breast reconstruction, after surgery for breast cancer. One common method is using implants. After the breast tissue is removed, the plastic surgeon puts in a tissue expander. This is a temporary breast implant that has an injection port in the center. After your surgical wounds heal, a plastic surgeon uses a needle to inject a salt solution, saline, through the port and into the tissue expander once every week or two for several months. This slowly stretches the skin and muscle until there’s enough space in the breast area for the size of implants you want.
How AeroForm Works
The AeroForm Tissue Expander System contains compressed CO2, which is carbon dioxide gas, and a handheld controller that fits in a purse and can be used while clothed. Women can use the controller up to three times a day, at least 3 hours apart, to release a small amount of gas and inflate the expander.
The controller allows you to inflate the expander at your own pace, and to inject a smaller amount at a time than with traditional expanders. That may reduce your risk of pain. If you feel sore or uncomfortable, or you are in pain, you can skip a day, or inflate fewer times or use less gas the next day.
After your expander is completely filled, or you are happy with its size, you stop inflating and schedule your implant surgery. The surgery usually takes place 2-3 months later, which gives the skin time to stretch fully. This expander system may allow users to finish expansion in a few weeks and get implants earlier than those who use traditional expanders.
Safety-wise, this expander system and traditional tissue expanders are very similar. All tissue expanders cause the skin and muscles to stretch over a period of time, which can be uncomfortable or painful.
In clinical trials, participants using the AeroForm device didn’t report any serious side effects. Fluid build-up under the skin, tissue death (necrosis), pain during the procedure, and infection after it were the most common side effects. Those side effects are also possible with traditional expanders.
You cannot use this device if you have another type of electronic implant, such as a pacemaker or defibrillator. You cannot have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) while the tissue expander is in place. It’s safe to fly with the expanders, but you may feel tightness because of the change in altitude.
U.S. law requires insurance companies that cover mastectomies to also cover breast reconstruction. But before any procedure, you should talk to your health insurance company about your plan’s coverage.
What This Means for You
The AeroForm Tissue Expander System is a newer option for breast reconstruction that may help you avoid extra doctors’ appointments. It may also help you avoid some pain or discomfort by allowing you to inflate when you want to. The device may have mental and emotional benefits, too. It may give you a sense of control over your breast reconstruction process. And if needles make you nervous, this device allows you to avoid that source of anxiety.
Depending where you live, it may be hard to find a plastic surgeon who is familiar with the device. If you’re interested in this system, ask your plastic surgeon whether it’s an option for you.