Background: Tissue expansion, while a mainstay of reconstruction for pediatric cutaneous lesions, has significant complication rates. The authors review the complications in a single-surgeon series of tissue expansion to identify risk factors for complications and guide subsequent therapy so that reconstructive goals in patients can be met irrespective of intervening complications. Methods: A retrospective chart review was conducted of all pediatric patients who underwent tissue expansion performed by the senior author (A.K.G.) over a 12-year period. In total, 282 expanders were placed in 94 patients. Results: A total of 65 complications occurred in 39 of 94 patients (41.5 percent), involving 65 of the 282 expanders (23.0 percent) placed. Major complications that required expander removal included exposure (n = 11), rupture (n = 15), and migration (n = 11). The most frequent minor complications, which did not require immediate expander removal, included migration (n = 13) and port malfunction (n = 9). The majority of expanders were placed in the scalp (n = 114), followed by the torso (n = 100), face and neck (n = 52), and the extremities (n = 16). Serial expansion beyond the second round resulted in a marked increase in complications. Despite complications, tissue expansion in the majority of patients could be salvaged, and a satisfactory outcome was achieved. Conclusions: Families must be made aware that approximately one-third of patients may have a complication requiring additional surgery or modification of the initial reconstructive plan. However, these complications need not preclude attainment of reconstructive goals.
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