If you’re online researching mastectomy after breast cancer, you’ll find lots of helpful articles to help you navigate through this difficult time. You’ll read about what to expect
, caring for your incision, taking the right medications, eating well, resting and your breast reconstruction options. But you probably won’t find much information about the loss of sensation
in your chest or the numbness left over from surgery. Undergoing a mastectomy can be a life-saving procedure. But when surgeons remove breast tissue during a mastectomy, it causes significant nerve damage
that can take away feeling in the chest and surrounding areas. Although some women may eventually experience some return of sensation, for others the loss of sensation is permanent – even after reconstruction.
How nerves work
The nervous system is an intricate system of “electrical cables” that run through your body connecting the brain and spinal cord to muscles, skin and organs. Nerves are responsible for giving you feeling and allowing movement. They carry messages to and from the brain to the rest of the body. When a nerve injury occurs, or in the case of mastectomy, when the nerves are severed, there is an interruption in the information being received to the brain from the affected region of the body. Your brain cannot tell if there is pain or feeling. It simply stops delivering that information. For many years, researchers have conducted studies on repairing damaged nerves throughout the body. In cases where nerves are traumatized or slightly injured, the body is often able to regenerate some nerves on its own over time. But in the case of breast reconstruction, studies show nerve regeneration often does not occur and until now there have been very few surgical methods developed with the aim of restoring lost feeling.
Sophisticated method of nerve repair in breast reconstruction
Women who choose to have breast reconstruction after mastectomy have a couple of options. You can either choose to have an implant or you can choose to reconstruct your breast with your own tissue, called an autologous or free flap reconstruction. With free flap reconstruction, plastic surgeons are now able to introduce the ReSensation technique. This advanced technique shows the promise of revolutionizing free flap reconstruction and aims to become the standard of care. Using allograft nerve tissue
, microsurgically trained plastic surgeons are able to reconnect nerves in the free flap to nerves in the chest with the intent of bridging the nerve gap so new nerve fibers may bring feeling or sensation back to the breast. Typical autologous breast reconstruction only offered size, shape, symmetry and softness to a woman’s new breast. While the breasts may look great, women may often feel that something is missing. With no sensation, many women described their breast as numb, and some women found that the surrounding areas next to the reconstructed breast, such as the armpit, became sensitive to touch.
When is ReSensation performed?
Breast neurotization with ReSensation is performed at the same time as free flap reconstruction.
The timing of when you undergo your reconstruction is up to you and your breast surgeon. During autologous breast reconstruction, a flap of skin and fat is removed, typically from the lower abdomen. The plastic surgeon places the tissue in the breast area creating a new breast mound. Allograft nerve tissue is used to bridge the nerve gap between the nerve ends of the flap tissue with those found in the chest, allowing the opportunity for the nerve fibers to regrow and potentially provide sensation in the breast.
Finding the right surgeon for breast neurotization with ReSensation
Breast neurotization with ReSensation requires a special surgical skill set. It is performed by a plastic surgeon with expertise in microsurgery and the ReSensation technique. Microsurgery is a type of surgery done under magnification in which precise surgical tools are used to perform complex operations on tiny and delicate tissues of the body. You have the right to return to a “normal” life again following your mastectomy and reconstruction. With ReSensation, you have the opportunity to potentially feel normal as well. It’s important for women to know that ReSensation is available and may provide an option to help change your life. To find a microsurgical plastic surgeon who offers ReSensation, use our surgeon locator.