*full video is at the bottom of this post*
What is Resensation?
- Resensation is a new surgical technique that has the potential to restore sensation to a woman’s breasts after mastectomy, as part of autologous, or free flap, breast reconstruction surgery. Plastic surgeons performing Resensation use a nerve allograft (a donated nerve that has been cleansed and prepared) to reconnect nerves in the chest with those in the reconstructed breast. The nerve graft supports the regrowth of new nerve fibers – and potentially a gradual return of sensation in the breasts.
- When sensation is restored, it’s possible to feel a hug from a loved one, a hot shower, a cool breeze at the beach, or an intimate touch again. Permanent numbness is no longer the only option.
Why do women lose breast sensation after mastectomy?
- During a mastectomy, the nerves that supply feeling to the breasts are severed when they remove the breast tissue. This typically leaves the chest area permanently numb.
How does losing breast sensation after mastectomy affect women?
- Loss of breast sensation after mastectomy can have a negative impact on quality of life. Research has shown that loss of breast sensation can affect body image and psychological health, as well as risk of injury. For many women, breasts they cannot feel do not feel like their own. With Resensation, women now have the potential to restore lost sensation in reconstructed breasts.
When exactly is Resensation performed?
- Resensation is performed as an added step during free flap breast reconstruction. Resensation can be performed as part of an immediate reconstruction (at the same time as the mastectomy) or a delayed reconstruction (months or years after the mastectomy). In some cases, Resensation may be performed along with an autologous reconstruction as a revision to a failed implant reconstruction. You and your plastic surgeon can determine the right timing based on your desires, medical condition and cancer treatment.
What is breast neurotization?
- Neurotization is a procedure to repair nerves that have been severed or damaged with the goal of restoring function. This may include restoring either movement (motor nerves) or sensation (sensory nerves). Breast neurotization reconnects some of the sensory nerves in the chest that are cut during a mastectomy with those in the free flap. By reconnecting these nerves, patients have the possibility of renewed breast sensation.
Am I a candidate for Resensation?
- You may be a candidate for breast neurotization with Resensation if you are considering or undergoing an autologous breast reconstruction using a free flap, such as the DIEP flap surgery.
Can Resensation be performed during breast implant reconstruction?
- Resensation cannot be performed during breast implant reconstruction. Implants are artificial and do not contain nerves, which are needed to potentially restore sensation.
I’ve already had breast reconstruction. Can I still get Resensation?
- Resensation is performed at the same time as autologous breast reconstruction; it can’t be done after the fact. However, some women who have implant-based reconstruction eventually decide they no longer want implants, or they experience complications with the implants and decide to have them removed. Women undergoing secondary flap reconstruction after implant removal may be candidates for Resensation.
I had a mastectomy a while ago and decided to wait to have breast reconstruction. Is Resensation available to women who have opted for a delayed reconstruction?
- Yes. Women who have delayed reconstruction may be candidates for Resensation, as long as the type of reconstruction chosen uses natural tissue.
What are the potential benefits of returning sensation to the breasts?
- Studies suggest that breast neurotization may provide a variety of benefits in terms of physical safety, body image, emotional health and overall quality of life. For example, a recent study found that neurotization had a positive impact on women’s quality of life after mastectomy. Specifically, the study found that women who had neurotization as part of their DIEP flap surgery, a common type of free flap breast reconstruction, reported a greater sense of physical well-being of the chest than women who did not have neurotization. Women with neurotization were also more likely to report their reconstructed breasts “felt like their own.”
How long does it take for feeling to potentially return after Resensation?
- It takes time for nerves to heal and grow after breast nerve repair, also called breast neurotization. Nerves typically grow at a rate of 1-2 millimeters a day. (For comparison, a dime is about 1 millimeter thick.) Plastic surgeons who perform the procedure report that women start to regain feeling several months after neurotization, and the feelings can continue to develop for up to two years.
Is Resensation covered by insurance?
- Breast reconstruction is a covered procedure; however, breast neurotization coverage may differ by insurer. Coverage is determined on a case-by-case basis by the insurer, which typically requires the surgeon to secure pre-authorization in advance of the procedure.