What does a breast feel like? A qualitative study among healthy women

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Background: Restoring the body as normal as possible increases quality of life. Aesthetically, almost perfect breast reconstructions can be created. However, these reconstructed breasts have almost no sensation. Our hypothesis is that if we succeed in restoring sensation, this will increase quality of life. So far, little is written about the phenomenon of breast sensation, which makes it difficult to evaluate whether the quality of life increases after restored sensation. Therefore, the primary goal of this study is to determine what the importance and meaning is of breast sensation among healthy women. Methods: A qualitative, descriptive phenomenological study was performed in an academic hospital between October 2016 and March 2017. A total of 10 semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted in healthy women who did not undergo prior breast surgery. The sample size was based upon 'saturation'. The interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed verbatim, coded and analysed according to phenomenology keeping in mind the research question 'what is the importance and meaning of sensation of the breast?' Results: Seven interrelated themes on how sensation of the breast is experienced were found: the absent breast (1), the present breast (2), the well-functioning breast (2a), the feminine breast (2b), the sensual breast (2c), the alien breast (2d), the safe breast (2d). Conclusions: The seven interrelated themes can form the basis to develop a quantitative research tool to evaluate quality of life after innervated breast reconstruction and can be implemented in counselling before breast reconstructive surgery in the form of shared treatment decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number82
Number of pages7
JournalBMC Women's Health
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • Breast
  • Sensation
  • Breast reconstruction
  • Qualitative study
  • PAIN

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