Many women who undergo mastectomies to stop the spread of breast cancer or, electively, to prevent it, also opt for breast reconstruction. In some cases, the reconstructive surgery immediately follows the mastectomy. In others, the physician will continue treatments and reevaluate the patient at a later date; in order to ensure that the cancer has been starved and it is safe to proceed. In the latter situation, the patient often needs to go through a tissue expansion process to stretch her skin and make room for the implant.

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How Has Tissue Expansion Been Done In The Past?

Up until recently, tissue expansion involved implanting an expander device into the breast and making regular appointments with the physician. During an appointment, the doctor will insert a needle into the affected area and add saline to increase the available radius for implantation. With this method, the process of expansion typically takes a few months to complete, and can cause discomfort or pain for the patient during and after the injections.

How Does The New Device Work?

Called AeroForm, the device contains a small amount of compressed C02 gas, which the patient can control on their own using a radio frequency remote.  Patients can choose how often they feel comfortable expanding the device, allowing them to avoid pain and proceed at their own pace. Trials conducted by Palo Alto-based company AirXpanders reported that women are able to achieve sufficient expansion for an implant much quicker than with traditional expanders—within a period of 15 days, as opposed to several months.  In other words, women may be able to undergo reconstruction procedures sooner, in addition to expediting the process of physical and emotional healing from breast cancer.

How Can I Get This Technology?

Currently, the device is still undergoing trials in the United States.  In August 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an exemption to the company for studies of the AeroForm as an investigational device. The results of these trials will be under consideration when the company files for official FDA approval. Though the device has not yet hit the market, patients who take part in the company’s clinical trials may receive one.