There is probably no greater sense of completion to breast reconstruction than the final phase of tattooing a nipple-areolar complex. I have seen many patients who have waited for that final surgery to feel they have accomplished the ultimate journey to survivorship.
However, lately I have noted more in the way of artistic originality to complete breast reconstruction as if the breast was a canvas to place a work of art.
Tattoo artists have a unique sense of empathy not unlike the surgeon who completes the anatomical structures during the last reconstructive surgery. In a recent JAMA article on the subject, a tattoo artist discusses his work with breast cancer patients. “I have seen beauty created from a breast scarred by surgery. Women get their bodies back,” said author David Allen.1 Often he will consult with the surgical oncologist so that his artwork can be included into the surgical planning.
I remember a patient who decided on bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction almost 15 years ago. While there was disease in one breast, she was at a higher risk for developing cancer on the opposite side and so decided to move forward with surgery to remove both breasts at the same time. This was a devastating decision for her and caused great anxiety and depression.
When I met this patient in a survivorship clinic a year later, she was joyous and full of life. She had opted to find a tattoo artist and create a work of art across her chest rather than the standard nipple-areolar complexes she had been offered. And it was stunning to see. There were beautiful vines with birds and flowers that not only covered the areas of her breasts, but also subtly moved up toward her collarbone and peeked out of her bra. Vibrant in color and design, it clearly was a work of art and had given her the control to decide how she would face her body in the future.
Patient satisfaction with tattooing after reconstruction has been studied in the past with the expected outcome of “feeling complete.” Artistic rendering has taken this phase of care to a whole new level.2
Has anyone worked with tattoo artists that create art for breast cancer patients? Was the level of satisfaction evident in your patients after the work was completed?
- Allen D. Moving the Needle on Recovery From Breast Cancer: The Healing Role of Postmastectomy Tattoos. JAMA. 2017 Feb 21;317(7):672-674.
- Halvorson EG, Cormican M, West ME, Myers V. Three-dimensional nipple-areola tattooing: A new technique with superior results. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2014 May;133(5):1073-5.