What Are Mastectomy Tattoos?

S. Gonzales

Mastectomy tattoos are tattoos that are applied to the body following a mastectomy. They can be used to beautify, conceal or acknowledge the resulting mastectomy scar. The process of choosing a design and getting a mastectomy tattoo can be a highly personal experience and can include the goals of raising self-esteem and raising cancer awareness.

Applying numbing cream to the area to be inked may help reduce the pain associated with receiving a tattoo.
Applying numbing cream to the area to be inked may help reduce the pain associated with receiving a tattoo.

Getting a mastectomy tattoo is a unique and special way to commemorate the struggle that a cancer survivor has had to endure. Some cancer survivors opt for reconstructive surgery around the area of their surgery. Others, however, choose to leave the area as it is and get a tattoo around it, preferring to honor the significance of the illness and their own personal journey.

Breastfeeding may lower a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
Breastfeeding may lower a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

The tattoo designs that are chosen to decorate the area of the scar can vary widely. Some survivors take great time and care to select a tattoo design, choosing symbolic symbols or even creating their own. Others might choose a design based simply on aesthetic preference. Either way, the mastectomy tattoo is intended to serve as a bold reminder to the wearer.

Some designs can incorporate mastectomy scars into their patterns to conceal them. Others can be swirled around the scars and make the scars stand out. Potential designs for mastectomy tattoos, like those for many other tattoos, are virtually limitless. Areas of the breast that have been removed, such as the nipples, can even be tattooed onto the body in a realistic fashion.

For some people, mastectomy tattoos are meant to call attention to the area and their struggle. There might be survivors who choose designs associated with breast cancer awareness. The goal in choosing a design like this is to pique interest in viewers, elicit questions and inform them about the illness.

Although pain is often associated with tattoos, the process of choosing mastectomy tattoos and etching them onto the skin can be part of the healing process for survivors. This process can signify the end of one struggle and an acceptance that the experience is in the past. The tattoo can forever remain a reminder to the wearer that an illness and painful experience have been overcome.

Survivors who have had their self-esteem plummet after the removal of one or both breasts might find that mastectomy tattoos beautify the area and give them something of which they can be proud. Before planning for a mastectomy tattoo can begin, however, the survivor has to be sufficiently healed. This includes recovery from all surgeries, chemotherapy and reconstructions.

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Discussion Comments


What type of mastectomy tattoo should I go for? I'm thinking of either angel wings or a vine-type tattoo that goes over the scars. Does anyone have any other tattoo ideas?


@turkay1-- You don't have to get tattoos all over your chest! If you're getting an entire breast removed, you will probably need a nipple reconstruction surgery anyway. The new nipple is usually colored with tattoo. So tattoo is an option for breast cancer survivors aiming for natural looking breasts as well.

I have a friend who chose to forego nipple reconstruction and got a beautiful cover-up tattoo for her scars that goes across her chest. She even shared photos of the tattoo on the web and received a lot of support from other women who currently have or have had breast cancer.

I respect your choice not to get a tattoo. But I do also admire women who get it, I think it's a very unique and positive way for them to express themselves and the battle they won.


I'm going to get a mastectomy surgery in a few days and I'm planning to get breast enhancement surgery afterward. My friend thinks I should get tattoos, but I've already been through so much pain with chemotherapy and now surgery, I don't think I want more pain. But all the power to breast cancer survivors who choose to get it.

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