Jan 11, 2023 RWJUH Somerset Surgeons Perform Sensation-Preserving Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy

A team of physicians at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset’s Steeplechase Cancer Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, are performing a mastectomy procedure that can significantly improve outcomes, minimize postoperative discomfort and enhance quality of life for their patients. Dr. Deborah Lue, board-certified breast surgeon, medical director of breast cancer services at the Steeplechase Cancer Center at RWJUH Somerset and member of the RWJBH Medical Group, and Dr. Colin Failey, board-certified plastic surgeon at Steeplechase Cancer Center, have recently completed several of the sensation-preserving nipple-sparing mastectomy procedures. The pair are one of the few of teams across the country, including colleagues across RWJBarnabas Health, who work to preserve the natural chest wall sensory nerves during a nipple-sparing mastectomy.

Most mastectomies performed today preserve the patient’s natural breast skin, including the nipple and areola skin, making reconstructed breasts look more natural. Surgeons who perform sensation-preserving mastectomies also typically graph motor nerves from other parts of the body into the breast, which requires an additional incision. Through their close collaboration, however, Drs. Lue and Failey have designed their procedure specifically to preserve the natural chest wall sensory nerves that are typically severed during a mastectomy, helping restore nipple sensation as closely as possible to the patient's pre-surgery feeling. In addition to limiting chronic chest wall pain post-procedure, this approach minimizes disruption to breast anatomy and allows for the same recovery time as a traditional mastectomy.

“With more people surviving breast cancer today, it is necessary to look at long term quality of life for our patients,” said Dr. Lue. “This procedure not only allows us to reconstruct breasts that look more natural, but we are confident it will help decrease long-term pain and increase sensation so patients can feel more like themselves as well.”

“While the surgery is appropriate for most patients requiring a mastectomy, it is especially helpful for those who are undergoing a nipple-sparing mastectomy as it helps to maintain as natural of a look and feel as possible after their recovery,” added Dr. Failey.

The procedure is possible thanks to the unique collaboration between Drs. Lue and Failey at the Steeplechase Cancer Center. Both surgeons are in the operating room for the entirety of the surgery to ensure the chest wall nerve is preserved and stays connected to the blood supply. Collaborative efforts like this one are a hallmark of the RWJBarnabas Health system and the Steeplechase Cancer Center. RWJBarnabas Health together with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, patients have access to the latest cancer treatment options close to home.

“Thanks to the collaborative efforts between Drs. Lue and Failey, New Jersey patients facing a breast cancer diagnosis are able to opt for a groundbreaking procedure that has benefits beyond those of a traditional mastectomy,” said Kathleen Toomey, MD, medical director of the Steeplechase Cancer Center. “Facing breast cancer and having to undergo a mastectomy takes a toll on patients physically and emotionally. We are proud to offer a procedure that can reduce physical pain and helps to provide patients a sense of normalcy once healed.”

In addition to surgical services, RWJUH Somerset’s Steeplechase Cancer Center, in collaboration with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, offers a comprehensive range of breast cancer services, including 3-D mammography, breast MRI and ultrasounds, 3-D guided breast biopsies, radiation oncology, chemotherapy, lymphedema treatment, a high-risk screening program, a second opinion program, genetic counseling, nurse navigator services and support groups. The center also offers Paxman Scalp Cooling Treatment to help prevent hair loss in patients undergoing chemotherapy. The Sanofi US Wellness Boutique also offers image recovery items, such as prosthetics, wigs, lymphedema sleeves and bathing suits and lingerie especially designed for women who have had a mastectomy.

For more information about cancer services at RWJUH Somerset visit www.rwjbh.org/cancer.