Breast Reconstruction Patients Turn to Tattooing

After many breast reconstruction surgeries, patients will often turn to a somewhat unconventional alternative when reconstructing a nipple and areola—having the nipple color created through the process of intradermal tattooing. This is done through a traditional tattoo machine or a surgical pigmenting pen. An article in the Syracuse Post Standard documents the story of one woman who brought her unique art to breast cancer patients in the later stages of reconstructive surgery.

Tattoo artist and former nurse, Kim Leach provides patients with tattoos to cover surgery scars and has seen the positive effect the tattoos have on her clients, even those who may have previously been averse to tattoos.

“I help people who were ashamed of their bodies be able to take pride in their bodies,” Leach said. “People go from, ‘Oh, my God, what happened to you?’ to ‘Oh, my God, what an awesome tattoo!'”

Leach herself has had scars from lymphoma treatment covered with tattoos.

When it comes to reconstructing the nipple, the patient’s doctor may propose using a skin graft in an effort to obtain pigmentation to the area. However, the skin grafting process can be painful, prone to breakdown and the patient may object to using the suggested donor site. Patients averse to this option turn to their doctors and tattoo artists like Leach to create the desired nipple color match.

When tattooed, a local anesthetic is injected into the area to be tattooed and a layer of Neosporin is applied. The ink used in coloring the area is generally darker than the desired result since its tone will fade somewhat over time. Some patients choose to have touch-up tattoos administered in an effort to achieve and maintain the desired result. Most patients who receive this tattoo coloring treatment to reconstruct nipples are satisfied with the result, having achieved a color match and avoided the inconvenience of a skin graft.

While many patients choose a more standard solution when covering scars from breast reconstruction, there are also patients who choose the more unconventional route of artist-designed tattoos. In these cases, patients often elect to have tattoos applied that have a special meaning and present a symbol of their experiences.

While a symbolic tattoo may not be for every patient, a variety of options remain for patients to move forward and rebuild after breast reconstruction surgery.

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Posted in: Reconstructive Surgery

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