After a mastectomy, most women experience a change of sensation in their breast. Because nerve endings are severed during surgery, they may experience partial or complete numbness — permanently. When a woman loses her breasts, it can affect her sense of self, body image, ability to be intimate, and how she comforts and nurtures her children. It can also affect physical health, since a lack of sensation in the area means a woman may not feel pain, heat, or cold.
Even after reconstruction, a woman’s breasts may look similar to how they were before but do not feel similar.
For some women, lack of sensation is something they will come to terms with and move on from. For others, it’s a constant reminder of the grief and trauma they went through when fighting the disease.
A procedure called Resensation can change that.
The surgical procedure was created by a company called Axogen, which develops innovative surgical solutions for peripheral nerve injuries.
“Breast reconstruction can restore the four “S’s” – Size, Shape, Softness and Symmetry. Resensation makes a fifth “S” – Sensation – possible,” reads the Resensation website.
The technique is done at the same time as reconstructive surgery. For the procedure, saline or silicone implants are not used. Instead, surgeons use the patient’s own tissue to rebuild the breast by taking it from another area of the body like the stomach. This is called a flap procedure or autologous surgery.
Surgeons are able to reconnect nerves on the chest wall that are typically severed during a mastectomy and connect them to nerves in the flap tissue. They do this with a specialized graft called allograft nerve tissue that is made from processed human tissue.
The nerve fibers slowly start to regenerate and become a part of the patient’s body. As they grow, they restore sensation.
When Jane Obadia had a recurring complication from her double mastectomy, she went to microsurgeon Dr. Constance Chen. Chen suggested Resensation. She used Obadia’s own body tissue to reconstruct her breasts, and reconnected the nerves using Resensation.
Eventually, Obadia began to have feeling in her breasts again.
It’s a slow process, but worth the effort.
“The axons regrow, start to regenerate at a millimeter a day,” Chen said.
Obadia now has between 80% and 90% of feeling back in her breasts — and it’s been wonderful.
“Now when I give my daughter a hug and her head rests there, I can feel her breath on my chest. That’s priceless,” Obadia said.
Learn more in this video.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.