Nipple Tattooing

Do you want to hide scars or create the illusion of natural nipples without surgery? Try nipple tattooing.

breast cancer - tattoos

Living Beyond Breast Cancer expert Michael Ham, a registered nurse and medical tattoo artist at Penn Medicine and the Sauler Institute of Tattooing, answered a number of questions posed to him through the LBBC website throughout November. Here are some of his responses.

Although getting a tattoo after lymphedema is usually safe, you should discuss it first with a physician before getting a tattoo on the arm in which lymph nodes were removed.

If you are allergic to red tattoo ink, other pigments are available. If in doubt, ask for samples of the ink so that you can be tested by your allergist.

The color of a nipple tattoo will initially fade in the first two weeks as the tattoo is healing. A tattoo should last a lifetime. However, since the artist is working with skin that has been compromised (scarred/moved/stretched/had radiation), everyone responds differently over time. If your tattoo does fade, you can have it touched up.

At the Sauler Institute, we charge out-of-pocket for the procedure but will provide a receipt and and reimbursement form to submit to your insurance company.

With areola tattooing, minor stretching or shrinking of the skin will not affect the tattoo. However, weight gain or loss may affect it depending on how quickly and how much your weight changes. The tattoo can be touched up if any changes are noticed over time.

With any procedure that penetrates the skin surface, infection is a risk. However, we clean the area with alcohol before tattooing and cover it with a clear bandage immediately afterward. The bandage stays on for three days to prevent any bacteria from coming into contact with the healing tattoo. The artist uses sterilized, single-use needles and top quality inks.

We generally book a bilateral aerola and nipple tattooing session for 90 minutes and a unilaterial tattooing for 60-90 minutes.

Healing time is generally one to two weeks with the majority of the healing in the first three days. You should be able to resume normal activities right away with a few restrictions: no vigorous exercise for the first 24 hours and no soaking in any bathtubs, swimming pools or hot tubs for at least seven days.

Artists can apply a tattoo as early as six to eight weeks after reconstruction. You must be cleared by your plastic surgeon for the procedure. Your incisions have to be healed, with no broken skin or signs of irritation.

And it’s never too late to get a tattoo. Patients can have tattoos performed years after their reconstruction.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer

breast cancer - Living Beyond

Among the myriad resources available for women with breast cancer, Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) is a winner.

Founded in 1991 by Marisa C. Weiss, MD, a radiation oncologist, the organization offers a library of free guides and booklets, a breast cancer helpline, conferences, live 90-minute panel discussions available in person or online, webinars, and an online writing program to help breast cancer patients express themselves.

In addition, LBBC offers a small quantity of life grants and a nutrition education workshop series for women in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Specialized programs includes those for young women, men, African-Americans, and LGBT people.

Their medical board includes doctors specializing in palliative care, radiation oncology, integrative cancer treatment, and breast cancer research. Other professionals include clinical social workers and professors of family medicine and community health.

LBBC is nationally recognized and relies on volunteers and donors to enable them to offer their services for free.

For more information, visit their website at or find them on social media.



Since it’s breast cancer awareness month, let’s talk about mammograms.


Mammography uses low-energy X-rays to detect breast cancer, typically through detection of characteristic masses or microcalcifications.

About seven percent of women screened have a “false positive” and receive further testing. (I’ve had this twice.) Mammography can also miss cancer and have a “false negative” reading for about ten percent of those screened.

Ultrasound is used for further evaluation of masses found on mammography. Other detection tools include ductography, positron emission mammography (PEM) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Researchers are investigating other procedures, including tomosynthesis.

Digital mammography uses digital receptors and computers instead of X-ray film. The resulting computer-screen images permit more manipulation so radiologists can review the results more clearly. This technology is a spin-off of that developed by NASA for the Hubble Space Telescope.

3D mammography or digital breast tomosynthesis (DBA) creates a 3D image of the breast using X-rays When used in addition to usual mammography, it results in more positive tests, but it more than doubles the radiation exposure.

Mammography can trace its history back to the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Rontgen in 1895. In the late 1950s, Robert Egan devised a method of screening mammography for the first time. Use of the “Egan technique” spread after a 1966 study demonstrated the impact of mammograms on mortality and treatment.

A 2016 review of the United States Preventative Services Task Force found that mammography results in an eight to thirty-three percent decrease in breast cancer mortality in different age groups. It currently recommends mammography every two years between the ages of 50 and 74.