Tissue expansion is a method of creating extra skin so that it can be used to repair damaged or abnormal tissue.
It works by stretching the skin with a silicone balloon placed under the skin, which is gradually inflated with injections of a salty solution. Tissue expanders usually take between 3 and 6 weeks to fully inflate. Tissue expanders, which automatically inflate themselves, can also be used for some treatments.
This ‘extra’ skin can then be used for repairing burns, scars and large birthmarks, for example, hairy naevi. This method is particularly useful for hairy areas like the scalp, as the ‘extra’ skin created is still able to grow normal hair. This method is suitable for almost all patients, but it may not be possible on areas that are already scarred as the skin is already weakened and may not stand up to stretching.
Frequently Asked Questions
Tissue expanders are essentially silicon balloons, which come in various shapes and sizes. A tube connected to the bag is used to fill it with fluid. As the bag fills with fluid, it stretches the skin over it.
Two operations are required. The first procedure is undertaken to insert the tissue beneath the skin. A general anaesthetic is required for this operation, which lasts about one hour. Tissue expansion can often be undertaken as a day case procedure. After about two weeks, the process of tissue expansion starts. This involves injecting a small volume of fluid into the expander through a “port” buried beneath the skin. Topical anaesthetic cream is used to numb the skin before the injection. The injections are given once or twice per week until the expander is fully inflated. Once enough new skin has been made from this process, a second operation is undertaken and the extra skin used for the planned reconstruction. This operation will also require a general anaesthetic.