An implant is a silicone shell filled with saline (salt water) solution or silicone gel. Implants are placed under the skin and muscle of the chest or a donated portion of tissue to create a breast mound.
Breast reconstruction with implants may take up to 12 months from initiation to completion of the final reconstruction. The permanent implant may be placed at the time of the first operation for some patients. For others, the size of the implant must be slowly increased over time.
For patients whose implants are increased over time, a tissue expander (balloon-like device) is placed under the skin and muscle of the chest. The expander slowly stretches the skin and chest muscle at the breast site to accommodate the implant. The expander is injected with saline, usually once each week on an outpatient basis, until the desired breast volume is achieved. This volume is greater than the volume of the reconstructed breast.
The breast is expanded for one to six months to help create a more natural appearance after implantation. Then the expander is removed and a permanent implant is placed. An implant often makes the breast firmer than a natural breast.