Just Diagnosed with Cancer? Chat with Experts

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 Junebug, Community Member, asks

Q: How long is the breast expander process?

How much saline is injected at a time -- 30cc, 90 cc, etc.?  How often is it done -- weekly, every-other week?  Is it so uncomfortable to need pain medication?  How much activity can I do during this process -- make beds, wash windows, ride bicycle, sit and knit, lay around and watch TV and get fat? etc..

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Answers (4)
PJ Hamel, Health Guide
9/25/08 6:13am

Hi Junebug: Angi will have LOTS of information for you next time she's here answering questions. My impression is everyone has a different experience, as far as pain and discomfort go. I've heard a lot about difficulties sleeping. Also, I wouldn't think you'd need to curtail activities much, since the whole process takes up to a year, maybe? That's a long time to sit on the couch watching TV and getting fat, so don't go there!!!! As I said, Angi is our expert on expanders and implants, and she should be getting back to you soon. Good luck - PJH

Angi, Community Member
9/25/08 12:02pm

Hi Junebug!

If things go according to plan and you don't experience horrible pain - the whole process from expanders to implants should roughly be 6 month, then heal for 3, then tattoo nipple.  As long as you don't hurt you will get about 100cc's of saline each week, maybe more.  Your doc will stop when you tell him you feel pressure or tight.  The pain isn't bad, but I recommend some motrin or tylenol first.  You'll feel tight the first few days, but nothing bad - just uncomfortable.  Like PJ said sometime sleeping comfortably is hard.  I wouldn't recommend playing ball or anything - but you can do light activities.  Carry a load of laundry, carry some groceries - just don't go lifting 30-40 lbs.  You can ask your doctor for specifics, but I'm sure he'll say you can do your normal daily routine unless of course it involved weight lifting.  When he placed your expanders, some saline should already be in them - you'll then wait a few weeks to "heal" before your first injection (which the injection itself doesn't hurt much - you would thin so cause it's a big needle, but really it's not bad - but if you have needle anxiety bring it up with him prior to your first fill!) Most standard expanders hold around 800 (they do make larger or smaller ones I suppose) and it depends on how big you want to be - but 6 months should be a fairly accurate assumption.

I beleive it took me less time to fill my smaller expanders and have to have them swapped out - which was in Feb. when my dr found my cancer returned and my reconstruction process has been on hold ever since.  Of course my situation is unique, as will be yours.  Everybody's experience is different - but you get the jest of what to expect.

please let me know if you have any other questions.  Good luck!


Junebug, Community Member
9/25/08 12:44pm

PJ and Angie:   Thanks so much for details and especially the time line.  It really helps with the planning, since we go to Florida for the winter.  I guess this year's calendar will be different.  I expect we will leave right after New Year, so wherever I am in the expansion process will go on "hold" until we return in April.  I'll ask for specifics when I see the plastic surgeon (a "she" and she is wonderful!) next week.

     When I had the mastectomy in Jan 08 I recovered nicely, but slower than I wanted.  I did no upper body/arm serious exercises (not necessary with simple mastectomy) until April, when a brief workout at the gym caused a blood vessel to break and leak blood into the mastectomy cavity.  Because of this, the PS said she didn't want me to do "anything" for a while.  Also, I stopped taking aspirin 6 months ago, so no residue is left in my body which could interfer with clotting.

     I am somewhat anxious about this procedure, much more so than just the mastectomy.  I think that is because the mastectomy was necessary, and the reconstruction is voluntary.   Plus, I am 70 years old and wonder if I'm doing the right thing.                            Thanks again for your info and support.   Junebug

lia, Community Member
9/25/08 1:54pm

Hi junebug.. I know angie and pj have you covered.. But I literally just got my expanders out and got my silicone implants in on the 18th..of september..I had fills every two weeks of 50 to 100 cc until I got to 650cc. two days of discomfort...walk, walk it helps.  I has 800 cc silicone implants put in ...that's the largest they make.

Had the discomfort again thru the weekend.. but it's nothing compared to your first surgery.. and the expanders do alot of the work ahead of time..so I started my inflation in june ..done sept...and just fyi I took a flight in between..and I was so afraid the expanders would set something off..but they didn"t..enjoy florida.. also have a female plastic surgeon..they are a wealth of knowledge..and also have amazing empathy for your feelings..good luck, lia...get nipples etc after 3 months...(after holidays)

Suzanne, Community Member
12/30/09 4:18pm


Hi - new to the blog - I'm Suzanne, I had a double mastectomy on 10-5-09 (my 46th birthday - what a birthday present, huh?)

Anyway, I am scheduled for expanders to be placed on 1-11-10. Thank you for your comments - I felt they were very helpful.

One question, I had thought that when they filled the expanders, they filled them fuller than the actual implants were going to be. Did they do any skin graphs to cover the implants?

lia, Community Member
12/30/09 5:12pm

Hi Suzanne... you poor thing,  I was also 46 y.o. when I was diagnosised...I hope you pathology was good...and that the difficult part is almost over.  I had immediate reconstruction..so my expanders went in during the mastectomy..I waited until all four drains were removed and started expansion...they go through the same incisions.. no skin grafts... very easy.. just take it easy.. no heavy lifting etc.  It depends where you are, and your plastic surgeon.. I had 650 cc in and 800 implants put in for the last stretch out... don't want them moving around to much in there.. as it is I need to have mine readjusted...one side has moved.. so I haven't done my nipples yet.. (a year and a half later)..because I want to lose a little weight first before I readjust them and do nipples.. hope this helps ..write any time...

Suzanne, Community Member
1/ 6/10 9:37am

Thanks, Lia!

I was dianosed in March of this year, underwent 6 months of Chemo. The reason they didn't put the expanders in during the mastectomy, was they were certain that I would have to have radiation, because even though the tumor shrunk, they could still feel it, Well. Thank God, it was only scar tissue. The chemo had completely killed the cancer, the pathology report came back very good. I go Monday for the surgery. Thanks again for replying.

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By Junebug, Community Member— Last Modified: 03/16/11, First Published: 09/24/08