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Br J Plast Surg. 1997 Jun;50(4):249-59.

The cutaneous innervation of the female breast and nipple-areola complex: implications for surgery.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Embryology, University of Leiden, The Netherlands.


Many surgical procedures performed in the thoracic region can easily damage cutaneous nerves important for the sensory innervation of the female breast. A better understanding of the distribution of these cutaneous nerves will help prevent impaired sensation after breast surgery. Therefore an anatomical study was performed on the cutaneous innervation of 12 breasts of 7 female cadavers. Special emphasis was placed on the nipple-areola complex. The origin, course and final destination of each cutaneous nerve was established and the contribution of each branch was determined by the area it innervated. Differences were evaluated using analysis of variance. The cutaneous innervation of the female breast is derived medially from the anterior cutaneous branches of the Ist-VIth intercostal nerves and laterally from the lateral cutaneous branches of the IInd-VIIth intercostal nerves. The nipple-areola complex is consistently supplied by the anterior and lateral cutaneous branches of the IVth intercostal nerve, with additional innervation by cutaneous branches of the IIIrd and Vth intercostal nerves. This study shows an equal importance of both the anterior and the lateral cutaneous branches of the intercostal nerves. During surgical procedures one should try to avoid damage to the anterior and lateral cutaneous branches of the IIIrd, IVth and Vth intercostal nerves, with special attention to the IVth intercostal nerve which is the consistent nerve to the nipple-areola complex.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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