The preservation of sensitivity within the nipple-areola complex is of paramount importance to patients presenting for reconstructive and aesthetic breast procedures. Previous attempts to measure sensation in the breast before and after surgery have relied primarily on the Semmes-Weinstein monofilament test, which is an imprecise study that measures the logarithm of force necessary to bend a series of six to 20 filaments. Within the last 10 years, various authors have published normative pressure threshold data for the breast that have varied by a magnitude of greater than 10-fold. Recently, precise anatomic studies have been performed that have elucidated the innervation of the nipple-areola complex medially and laterally from cutaneous branches of the intercostal nerves. Despite this knowledge, no quantitative sensibility studies have yet been performed that compare postoperative sensation when medially versus laterally innervated pedicles have been used in reduction mammaplasty. The present study is the first to use computer-assisted neurosensory testing to generate normal breast sensation data and to compare sensory outcomes between the inferior and the medial pedicle techniques of reduction mammaplasty. A total of 34 patients were divided into four groups and underwent breast sensory testing (67 breasts total) using the Pressure-Specified Sensory Device, a computer-assisted force transducer that measures static and moving one and two-point discrimination. Sensation in the nipple and in the four quadrants of the areola was measured. Groups I and II were composed of 17 unoperated controls with breast sizes ranging from 34A to 36C (group I; 18 breasts) and 36DD to 46EE (group II; 16 breasts) who presented to a general plastic surgery clinic. Groups III and IV were composed of 17 patients who underwent either medial or inferior pedicle reduction mammaplasty between July of 1997 and March of 1999. Pressure thresholds in the most sensitive breasts were as low as 0.3 g/mm2, a marked contrast to data from previous studies using Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments documenting the lowest recordable pressure threshold as greater than 2 g/mm2. Several findings from previous studies using Semmes-Weinstein monofilament testing were confirmed in unoperated controls, including an inverse relationship between sensitivity and breast size, superior nipple sensitivity when compared with the areola, and significant interpatient variability with respect to static and moving two-point discrimination among women matched according to age and breast size. When comparing medial with inferior pedicle reduction mammaplasty patients, it was found that despite significantly greater reductions using the medial pedicle technique (mean of 1.7 kg versus 1.1 kg of breast tissue removed), there were no significant differences in postoperative sensory outcomes in the sample size of 17 patients. Furthermore, within each group of patients undergoing either the medial or inferior pedicle technique, the amount of breast tissue removed did not correlate with postoperative sensory outcomes. Computer-assisted quantitative neurosensory testing is a highly accurate technique for measuring sensibility. The use of this technology demonstrates a 10-fold difference in measurable sensory thresholds in normal patients from preexisting data using Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments. Advances in measurement methods have allowed the authors to compare postoperative sensory outcomes reliably using two popular techniques of reduction mammaplasty.
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