Definition of Tissue Expansion

tissue expansionTissue Expansion is a method for growing additional skin to use for autologous (self) skin grafts.

Autologous grafts have the best rate of success when transplanted because they are native to the body and present no risk for graft rejection.

Tissue expansion is a common method for many reconstructive surgery procedures, though requires adequate areas of healthy skin.

For tissue expansion, the surgeon makes a small incision to create a pouch or pocket in healthy skin and inserts a balloonlike pouch called a tissue expander. The surgeon then adds a small amount of saline, through a special valve, every few days or so over a period of several months. The expander encourages the skin to grow to cover it, slightly accelerating the rate of growth over that which would normally occur.

When the new growth of skin reaches the desired surface area, the surgeon removes the expander and can harvest the skin to transplant elsewhere on the body. Tissue expansion grafts are highly successful for repairing skin surfaces damaged or lost to severe burns or injuries. Some hair transplantation methods also use tissue expansion to grow additional skin that contains healthy hair follicles.

Risk factors

As with any surgery, the primary risks associated with tissue expansion are infection and excessive bleeding. The tissue expander generally creates a conspicuous bulge in the surface of the skin, though the skin profile at the growth site returns to normal when the surgeon removes the expander.

The surgeon uses appropriate techniques to minimize scarring at the harvesting site as well as during placement of the new skin.


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