In 2022, it’s estimated that over 339,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. More than 100,000 will have a mastectomy. Many will be surprised to realize how numb their entire chest feels after a mastectomy, with or without reconstruction.
Typical reconstruction surgery focuses on rebuilding the look of the breasts on the outside, which is a critical part of a cancer survivor’s emotional healing. But it doesn’t address the problem of loss of sensation. In other words, how her breasts feel to her on the inside.
A sensation-preserving mastectomy does both.
Why Do Women Lose Breast Sensation After a Mastectomy?
Traditional mastectomy leaves a woman’s entire chest area numb because the nerves are removed along with the breast tissue. It happens even with a nipple-sparing mastectomy. Although the nipple and surrounding skin may be preserved and the nipple may look the same, the nerves that provide feeling to the breasts are severed when the underlying tissue is removed. That leaves most women feeling numb.
How Does Losing Sensation Affect Women?
Women are left with little to no sense of temperature, pain, or touch in their breasts without nerves in the chest area. Even after reconstruction, when the breasts look whole, they don’t feel like a part of her body because they simply do not feel. For many women, their body image and psychological health suffer.
Loss of sensation can be disorienting and even dangerous. It means not feeling burns or injuries, not feeling if a bra is on correctly, and not feeling hugs or intimate sensations. It can mean not feeling a cut or bug bite that’s become infected.
Loss of sensation after a mastectomy is common. Still, many women don’t know about it until after surgery, when they realize the numbness in their chest area isn’t improving. The shock can be emotionally devastating.
What Makes a Sensation Preserving Mastectomy Different?
A sensation-preserving mastectomy is a new, advanced type of surgery that protects and/or repairs the nerves that supply feeling to the chest area, including the breasts and nipples.
When surgeons are removing breast tissue during a sensation-preserving mastectomy, they take care to protect as many nerves as possible. If it’s necessary to cut some nerves, they can graft donor nerve tissue to the nerve end to guide regrowth. With your nerves preserved and repaired, you have a better chance of feeling “back to normal” after surgery.
Why Is Preserving Sensation Important?
Although returning sensation is a personal choice, research has shown that it benefits a woman’s self-image, emotional health, physical safety, and quality of life in general. Although standard reconstruction can give a woman back her breast shape, size, softness, and symmetry, the numbness in the chest area makes many women feel like they’ve lost a part of themselves.
A sensation-preserving mastectomy gives you a chance to not only look like yourself again but to feel more like yourself again too.
Why Do Some Nerves Need to Be Cut?
Some nerves go directly through breast tissue that needs to be removed. Others stay in the fatty tissue layer under the skin. The nerves that reside in the fatty tissue layer can typically be saved, but the nerves in breast tissue may need to be removed with the cancerous tissue.
How Long Does It Take for Sensation to Return?
Your body begins to repair the nerves almost at once, but it does take time for them to grow and heal. Sensation typically begins to return within a few months and can continue to develop for about two years.
Are You a Candidate for Sensation Preserving Mastectomy?
Breast cancer treatment and recovery can be long, painful, and deeply emotional. A mastectomy and reconstruction can be an important milestone that gives you back control of your body and how you feel about yourself. But a sensation-preserving mastectomy can take that a step further, preserving the sensation in your chest area so you can truly feel.
To learn more about sensation-preserving mastectomy, schedule a consultation today!