Reconstruction has been limited to size, shape, softness and symmetry,” said AxoGen Medical Director Dr. Ivica Ducic. “I believe reconstruction should be expanded to include restoring sensation.” Dr. Ducic shared his thoughts on ReSensation, a surgical technique designed to restore sensation after a mastectomy, and how it may transform breast reconstruction outcomes for women.
Women choose to have a mastectomy as a life-saving measure, but they are often dismayed to find their breasts are numb after the procedure. The loss of breast sensation is a common and sometimes devastating side effect of breast removal surgery. For some women, the lack of sensation can act as a roadblock that prevents them from fully recovering mentally and emotionally from their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.1
Tara lived for a decade with the implants. Around the 10-year mark, Tara noticed her breasts starting to look uneven. After years of being the same size, one breast looked a bit larger than the other. To be on the safe side, she went to see Dr. Chen. Tara was surprised when an MRI showed one of her implants had ruptured. Dr. Chen recommended immediate removal of the implants followed by autologous reconstruction.
After a mastectomy, it’s common for women to experience a loss of sensation in the chest area. The reason for the loss of feeling is that during the mastectomy, surgeons cut the sensory nerves when they remove the breast tissue.
For many women, the changes in sensation are permanent, persisting even after reconstruction. While breast reconstruction can restore the shape, size, symmetry and softness of breasts – known as the four “S’s” – reconstruction doesn’t typically focus on the fifth “S,” sensation.
Research shows the number of women choosing reconstruction has risen significantly over the past several decades. In 1998, 46% of women with breast cancer received reconstruction, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that analyzed medical claims from over 20,000 women with employer-sponsored health insurance.1 By 2007, that number had risen to 63%. According to the study, women who have had a bilateral (double) mastectomy were the most likely to seek reconstruction, with three-quarters choosing to restore their breasts.
While choosing to have a mastectomy is a difficult decision, it’s followed by many other questions. Will you have breast reconstruction? What type will you have? What is recovery like?
As you weigh your reconstruction options, one factor to consider is whether you want to explore the possibility of having sensation restored to your breasts as part of your reconstructive surgery. Women often experience permanent numbness in their breasts post-mastectomy because the nerves in the chest area are severed during the procedure. However, women who choose free flap (autologous) breast reconstruction using their body’s own tissue now have the opportunity to potentially restore sensation with an advanced technique called ReSensation.
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 present a life-saving opportunity for women faced with breast cancer. Yet mastectomies come with long-term side effects, including persistent numbness in the area where the breast tissue was removed.
The reason for the loss of sensation: During a mastectomy, nerves that provide sensation to the breast are cut when the breast tissue is removed, creating a loss of sensation. This numbness can persist even after breast reconstruction surgery.
Women face many choices when it comes to their breast cancer treatment, and one of the most important ones is what type of breast reconstruction surgery to have after mastectomy. Two reconstructive techniques available to women are implant reconstruction or autologous reconstruction (free flap), which uses your body’s own tissue to build natural-looking breasts.
For many women, the decision to undergo a mastectomy can be life-saving. But like many surgeries, there may be side effects that women are either unaware of or they don’t fully understand the physical and emotional impact of these effects post-surgery. One such side effect is the loss of breast sensation after a mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery.