A breast cancer or BRCA diagnosis can make it feel like you’ve lost control over your health. Decisions need to be made, family needs to be told, treatment needs to start, surgery needs to be scheduled. With all these needs driving you forward, it can be easy to lose sight of your own needs in the process. Especially your life-after-surgery needs.
To help you understand your options for life after you’ve moved from fighter to thriver, we’ve designed this guide to walk you through the basics, shed light on recent advancements in reconstruction and empower you with the knowledge you need to regain control over your journey.
In the past nobody really talked about loss of sensation post-mastectomy. We want to ensure that women are aware that it can happen, but also that there is an opportunity to restore feeling with the Resensation surgical technique.
Ivica Ducic, MD, PhD
Women have a right to breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, but that reconstruction has been limited to shape until now. It’s time to expand the definition to restoring sensation, too.
Ivica Ducic, MD, PhD
I would get so excited about my patients’ outcomes in terms of the way they looked, but they’d say, ‘I really can’t feel anything,’ or ‘My breasts look great but they’re numb.’ They may believe that’s just the way it has to be. It’s our job as plastic surgeons to educate them on all the options so they can make the best decision for their reconstruction.
Jules Walters, MD, Plastic Surgeon, New Orleans, LA
To be able to reach out and hug my daughter, and have her head rest on my chest, and be able to feel her, and feel her breath on my skin, that is the most precious thing in the world.
Jane, Resensation Patient
The end goal is to, as much as possible, replace the breast with tissue that changes with them. Part and parcel of that is allowing patients the opportunity to regain sensation, so they get the maximum outcome.
Pankaj Tiwari, MD, Plastic Surgeon, Gahanna, OH
I take for granted how normal I feel now, and how little I have to worry. I’m very happy with the outcome of the surgeries, and can look forward and think it’s going to be OK.
Tara, Resensation Patient
mastectomy numbness 101
While a mastectomy can increase breast cancer survival rates, there are side effects you should be aware of as you’re developing your care plan. One side effect that often gets overlooked is breast numbness. During surgery, nerves are cut as the breast tissue is removed, leaving the chest area without sensation. After reconstruction, numbness can persist, impacting your quality of life, intimacy and body image.3-5 The loss of sensation can even lead to breast injuries.6 It can be surprising to realize your newly reconstructed breasts no longer have the ability to feel touch, warmth or cold.6 That’s why it’s so important to know all of your options when it comes to thriving after cancer.
know your options
two breast reconstruction methods, explained
After a mastectomy, reconstruction can help women improve their long-term quality of life and body image, but many still feel they don’t fully understand their reconstruction options.8 There are a number of factors that will play a role as you determine the best route for you, including your current level of health, breast size and desired recovery time, but for the most part, there are two main types of reconstruction.9
As part of this reconstructive surgery, saline, silicone or cohesive gel inserts are used to reconstruct the breast.10 Because these implants are artificial and don’t contain nerves that can potentially be used to restore sensation, the Resensation surgical technique is not an option with this type of surgery.
free flap reconstruction
With this type of reconstruction, the surgeon will use tissue from other areas of your body—most commonly stomach, buttocks, thigh or back—to rebuild your breast. There are a number of different flap techniques, including DIEP, SIEA and PAP.
free flap reconstruction + Resensation
Because free flap reconstruction uses your body’s natural tissue, which contains nerves, this surgery gives you the option of potentially restoring sensation through Resensation.
how Resensation works
A new surgical technique, Resensation allows surgeons to reconnect the nerves that were cut during your mastectomy to the nerves in the flap used to form the new breast using allograft nerve tissue. Over time, the nerves regenerate, potentially restoring sensation and becoming a part of your own body in the process.
breasts that feel normal – so you can feel normal
In the past, a successful reconstructive surgery meant the patient was happy with the size, shape, symmetry and softness of their breast. Now, with the Resensation surgical technique, sensation has become a factor in measuring outcomes.
This additional “S” can make a world of difference for a woman living with a breast reconstruction. Studies have shown that women who have undergone breast nerve repair experience a higher quality of life, which includes:11,12
- Better body image
- Higher self-esteem
- Fewer physical limitations
- Increased overall physical and emotional health and well-being
Nerve regeneration can take time. Some patients start to regain sensation several months after the nerve repair surgery, and this sensation can continue to increase for up to two years.13 This continued growth is one of the factors that makes free-flap reconstruction with nerve repair so impactful for women thriving after a mastectomy. As your body changes, your reconstructed breasts will naturally change along with you.
are you a candidate?
If you’ve had or are going to have one or both breasts removed as part of breast cancer treatment or prevention, you may be a candidate for the Resensation surgical technique if you choose free-flap reconstruction. You may even choose to revise a previous implant surgery with a free-flap reconstruction paired with Resensation. To discuss your options and find a surgeon who offers breast neurotization using the Resensation surgical technique, visit the Resensation surgeon locator today.
being your own advocate for better breast cancer treatment options
Dr. Peled helps us understand why numbness happens and how you can advocate for better breast cancer treatment options.Read More
be prepared: understanding mastectomy and nerve regeneration
How do nerve regeneration and recovery work? These key facts can help you know what to expect and avoid surprises.Read More