Breast cancer

14 January 2015

Tattoos help conceal breast reconstruction scars

US group links tattoo artists with breast cancer survivors to hide scars.


For women who have survived breast cancer, breast or nipple reconstruction can be a first step toward looking like their old selves. A Colorado organisation is helping some of those women, and others who don't choose reconstruction, in their emotional healing – through tattoos to help conceal their scars.

Personal empowerment is a Boulder-based group that helps connect survivors with tattoo artists. Its first annual Day was in 2013, when it raised money and funded tattoos for 10 women in a single day in Brooklyn, New York. In 2014, the event expanded and featured all-volunteer artists in 12 cities in the U.S. and Canada who helped 38 women.

"I think a lot of survivors see this as their opportunity to define what breast cancer looks like on them, and that is the ultimate in personal empowerment we are shooting for here," said Noel Franus, who launched with the help of others at the CP+B advertising agency, where he works.

Franus got the idea after his sister-in-law, Molly Ortwein, underwent a double mastectomy and wanted something more than reconstruction or tattooed nipples. She went to the family for ideas on a tattoo and got a pernambuco tree blossom one in 2013.

Read: Angelina Jolie inspires rise in breast cancer testing

The organisation also has a charitable arm, the fund, which raises money to pay experienced tattoo artists to work with survivors. has created a smartphone app where women can look at designs and try one on via photo. And the group is considering creating a tattoo parlour dedicated to breast cancer-related tattoos and developing a training programme for tattoo artists.

Diane de Jesus was among the women tattooed in Brooklyn at the first event. The 34-year-old dietician said she requested a dove on her reconstructed left breast because she dreamed about the birds while going through treatment. She said getting her tattoo gave her a feeling of taking back control.

"I didn't see my scar anymore, and it was the biggest surprise and biggest gift in going through this process," she said.

Read more:
Breast reconstruction
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Image: Breast reconstruction from Shutterstock



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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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