When will breast feel "normal" after lumpectomy?

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Question from Iffa: How long after a lumpectomy does it take for one's breast to feel more "normal" to one's partner's fingers?
Answers - Marisa Weiss, M.D. Sensation in the breasts is usually altered somewhat at least by surgery. By making an incision in the skin, little nerves are disrupted and the superficial sensation can be lost. Sometimes the sensation improves over time. This can take up to a year. Radiation to the breast can also dull the sensation that you might have on the skin or nipple/areola area. I think that it's likely to improve somewhat, but it may be permanently altered to some degree. After mastectomy, with a much larger incision, and with loss of the nipple and areola, the loss of sensation is more significant. You may instead want the other breast stimulated. Or you may be able to fantasize about breast sensation, bringing back pleasant memories from before.

In addition to loss of sensation to you, your partner may notice that your breast is more swollen or firmer than it was before. The tissue around the incision can feel hard. This hardness definitely improves over time. Sometimes it may take up to 3 years before it really softens nearly completely. For some women, there remains an area of firmness that will persist indefinitely, usually around a lumpectomy site.
Debra Thaler-DeMers If you've had radiation therapy to the breast, the skin itself may feel different to your partner. Usually after radiation therapy is completed, it is safe to use lotions, such as those containing aloe or vitamin E to help the skin heal and become softer to the touch.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. One way to reintroduce touching to the breast is to invite your partner to moisturize the breast, particularly after radiation, with a moisturizer like Vaseline Intensive Care or A&D ointment. Once your skin heals, you can move on to a thinner moisturizer preparation. This is something that some women like to do. Other women may choose not to be touched temporarily or for an extended period of time. Try to do things your way.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Intimacy, Sex and Your Love Life featured Leslie R. Schover, Ph.D., Debra Thaler-DeMers, R.N., O.C.N., P.H.N., and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about how to improve your sex life during and after breast cancer treatment.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in February 2002.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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