Understanding Mastectomy and Nerve Regeneration
A mastectomy is an operation to remove the breast. It is usually referred to as a double mastectomy if you are having both breasts removed. It is a fairly common procedure in the treatment of breast cancer in either men or women and can also be used to reduce the risk of developing cancer in the breast tissue. Patients who have been identified as being at particularly high risk of developing breast cancer may choose to have a mastectomy prior to a diagnosis.
If you have been told that you need a mastectomy, your surgeon should spend time preparing you both for the procedure itself and for what to expect following your surgery. One of the things that it is important for mastectomy patients to understand is the process of nerve regeneration after your procedure.
What are nerves?
Nerves are specialized cells that carry messages from one part of the body to another. These messages are known as nerve impulses. There are various types of nerves, and those found in the breasts are known as sensory nerves or neurons. Their job is to detect changes in the environment and turn them into electrical impulses that are sent to the spinal cord and brain. The nipples and areola (the dark area of skin around the nipple) are packed with nerve endings, which gives them the sensations that you may experience when they rub against clothes or when they are touched.
What happens to the nerves during a mastectomy?
When you have a mastectomy, incisions will be made that will be used to remove the breast tissue. Avoiding the countless nerves in the breasts will be unavoidable, and once these nerves have been cut, they will no longer be able to carry messages from the breasts to the spinal cord and brain. This can result in a loss of sensation when you touch the breast area. Some people even experience what can only be described as numb breasts.
Unsurprisingly, this loss of breast sensation and the subsequent numbness that many people experience can be upsetting, both from a body image and intimacy point of view and particularly when you take the psychological and physical effects of cancer treatment and breast removal into account too. Fortunately, there is a treatment that can help to overcome the issue of desensitization following a mastectomy. This is known as nerve regeneration.
Breast nerve regeneration
Breast nerve regeneration, also known as resensation, is an effective form of nerve repair that many people opt to have after mastectomy. It is carried out in combination with autologous breast reconstruction surgery. This is different to conventional breast augmentation since autologous reconstruction uses natural body tissues – skin, fat and sometimes muscle from another part of the body – to create a new breast shape. Resenation focuses on reconnecting the nerves in your chest with the nerves in the tissues used to form the new breast shape. This provides them with the opportunity to regenerate and provide sensation again.
Patience is crucial
It’s crucial that patients understand that resensation isn’t instant. Nerve growth happens at a rate of about 1mm per day, meaning that you can expect it to take several months before you start noticing any changes in breast sensation at all. When you do, these may manifest as tingling, twinges, hot/cold sensitivity, mini electric shocks, or achiness. Some patients even experience mild breast discomfort, but this is actually a good sign of progression and the success of your treatment.
For more information about nerve regeneration following a mastectomy, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our compassionate and discreet cosmetic surgery team.