During a mastectomy, the nerves that provide sensation to the breast and nipple are usually severed and removed with breast tissue. The loss of feeling in the breast area can be unexpected and traumatic. Reconstruction usually results in natural-looking breasts that help a woman feel more like herself again; however, most women are surprised how little they feel afterward.
Loss of sensation after a mastectomy can mean little or no ability to feel warmth, cold, or touch. In fact, many women experience total numbness after surgery. That means not feeling everyday sensations like the pressure of a sports bra, how clothing fits, the discomfort of running into something, a hug, or intimate sensation. Loss of sensation can also be dangerous when a woman can’t feel a snapped underwire poking into her breast, or burns from hot water or the sun, for example.
For many women, the loss of sensation is like losing a part of themselves.
An innovative surgical technique called Resensation is giving women hope. This sensation-preserving mastectomy technique can protect and/or repair the nerves that control sensation in the breasts, giving women hope that they can feel more like themselves after surgery.
What Makes a Sensation-Preserving Mastectomy Different?
With a traditional mastectomy, breast tissue and the nerves within it are removed. Even after a reconstruction, the nerves are still gone, leaving women numb in the chest area.
During a sensation-preserving mastectomy, your surgeons will take special care to preserve as many nerves as possible while removing the breast tissue. For nerves that can’t be preserved, a donor’s nerves are grafted to the cut nerves. The grafted nerves guide regrowth, which may result in a restoration of sensation.
Surgery and Recovery
Sensation-preserving mastectomy requires a specially trained team of surgeons. An oncologic surgeon removes the cancerous tissue while a plastic surgeon reconstructs the breast and repairs severed nerves. To preserve sensation, reconstruction must be over the muscle with the implant placed during the same surgery.
A sensation-preserving double mastectomy with implant reconstruction takes several hours and requires an overnight hospital stay, typically 1-2 nights. The risks of surgery and the recovery time are similar to a standard mastectomy.
Most women can return to normal daily activities in 4-6 weeks, but it can take a year or two to recover fully. You may notice sensation returning within six months, and it may continue to improve for a year or so.
Your surgeon will discuss post-operative instructions with you, including precautions and limitations specific to your surgery.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Sensation-Preserving Mastectomy?
Every person’s cancer and reconstruction needs are unique and need to be evaluated one-on-one with a surgeon to decide if Resensation is an option. The size and location of your cancer, along with your reconstruction expectations, may limit your options.
In general, good candidates are women:
- Diagnosed with breast cancer, or
- At high risk for breast cancer
- Are medically stable for surgery
- Have adequate immune system function
- Are planning a mastectomy with implant reconstruction
Feel Like Yourself Again
Breast reconstruction can be an important milestone in healing after the trauma of breast cancer. Looking and feeling like yourself again is critical to reclaiming your sense of self. But many women feel like something is still missing after surgery when they can’t feel their breasts. Sensation-preserving mastectomy can help.
To learn more about sensation-preserving mastectomy, schedule a consultation today!