Restoring Sensation During Breast Reconstruction: Is it an Option for Me?
Numbness after a mastectomy is a problem that isn’t discussed enough
A mastectomy is a major decision and can be incredibly overwhelming. In the midst of overwhelming emotion, it’s hard to consider what life will look like after treatment. A common side effect that’s rarely talked about is the loss of sensation to the chest. During mastectomy nerves are cut, which can mean living the rest of your life with a numb or partially numb chest. Women often say they weren’t prepared for how numb they would feel after mastectomy or how much it would impact their daily lives.
Why does numbness happen after a mastectomy?
Peripheral nerves run throughout the body, enabling us to interact with the world. Imagine a nerve as a wire, carrying messages to and from the brain and body. Motor and sensory nerves are what direct our muscles to move and allow us to feel.
Mastectomy removes breast tissue, including sensory nerves. It’s like cutting the power cord to a TV – if severed, the electrical signal is interrupted, and the TV won’t turn on. Nerves work in a similar way. When a sensory neve is cut, the signals cannot communicate, resulting in partial or complete numbness in your chest – impacting the ability to feel touch, temperature – and even pain.
Living with numbness can be hard to comprehend
Touch is an essential aspect to emotional and physical wellbeing. It’s hard to imagine what loss of sensation may mean in the long-term. Reflect on the numbness you experience after a dental procedure. Imagine how uncomfortable or awkward your mouth temporarily feels. Numbness in your chest can be comparable, but permanent and over a much larger area of your body. Unsurprisingly, the loss of breast sensation can be disruptive to body image, intimacy, and quality of life.
Here’s a short video that can help put the loss of sensation in perspective.
Without the ability to detect touch, your chest may feel disconnected from the rest of your body. Cuts, rashes, and mishaps with sharp objects that cause injury may go unnoticed. Without sensation, your chest can’t detect changes in temperature, thus increasing the risk for accidental burns. While many of the injuries in this study are due to sun exposure, burns have also happened from heating pad or ice pack use or accidentally touching skin with a hot curling iron.
Restoring sensation during breast reconstruction is possible
Living with numbness after mastectomy isn’t the only option. Resensation® is a surgical technique performed at the time of breast reconstruction to reconnect nerves that were cut during a mastectomy using a nerve allograft.
A nerve allograft bridges the gap between two nerve ends. Nerves grow slowly, at a rate of about 1 millimeter a day. With Resensation, the healing nerves regenerate over time, potentially restoring sensation and becoming part of the patient’s body in the process. Resensation can be performed during an immediate or delayed reconstruction and may also be possible at the time of a revision surgery.
In a recent study, women reported that regaining sensation helped them recover and move on from their experience with cancer, the mastectomy, and reconstruction process. It also helped them feel more normal and more like their old selves.
In the study, 97% of women interviewed who underwent Resensation:
- Would recommend that a friend or family member explore breast sensory restoration options.
- Said potential rewards in terms of physical and emotional impact and quality of life outweighed potential risk of the procedure not being successful.
- Believed that restoring breast sensation should become standard of care for breast reconstruction.
Finding the right plastic surgeon
Nerves are small, delicate structures that require a highly skilled plastic surgeon’s expertise. The Resensation procedure requires a surgeon who is trained in repairing blood vessels, nerves, and other intricate structures using a microscope and microsurgical instruments.
Numbness after a mastectomy doesn’t have to be the norm. To learn more about Resensation and if it may be right for you, visit Resensation.com. You can view plastic surgeons specializing in this technique and schedule a consult to discuss your options.
Sharsheret is a national not for profit cancer support and education organization and does not provide any medical advice or perform any medical procedures. Sharsheret does not endorse or promote any specific medication, treatment, product, or service, and makes no guarantees regarding the effectiveness of the product discussed herein. The information provided herein is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider.
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