How Do You Replace a Nipple? Bringing Awareness to Breast Cancer

MakenzieR on 18 Oct 2011 at 11:00am

October is the month designated to “bring awareness” to breast cancer.  But what does it make people aware of?  Simply that it exists?  A woman goes through so many different trials during the journey, and unless you’ve had intimate experience with the disease, many of us are oblivious to the worst of them.

I’ll admit that until a doctor passed along some info, I had never given thought to the fact that many women who opt for reconstruction have no nipples when the initial expander/implant procedure heals.  How they regain that final feature happens afterward.

So far I’ve discovered 3 ways that women make up for the loss of nipples:

  • Nipple reconstruction
  • Prosthetics
  • Creative tattoos

What surprised me the most is part of how a nipple is reconstructed: nipple tattoos.  But it's not what you're thinking.

The purpose of the tattoo is to create a realistic nipple/areola color around the skin and muscle used to create a nipple-like mound.  And from what I’ve seen, they look good.  We try not to post exposed breasts directly on the blog, but you can click here to see for yourself.  Unfortunately, it can take a few times under the needle to achieve the right color -- a lot of additional pain to an already emotional procedure. 

Then there are prosthetics -- nipples that can be stuck on when desired.  In fact, some women with natural nipples intact use these prosthetics to achieve a constant “nipping out” look.  No comment...

breast reconstruction tattooThe last option I’ve come across is my favorite.  Some decide to get more creative tattoos where a nipple would be.  Like hearts, stars, or the pink breast cancer ribbon.  I’m not sure that’d be my choice if I were in the situation, but I like the fact that those tattoos are a constant yet positive reminder of what you went through.  For many, happier than having to only look at the mastectomy scars.

One option that doesn’t exist?  Nipple implants.  “The main problem with using an implant in this area would be its proximity to the skin,” says Dr. Jeffrey Zwiren, a Georgia plastic surgeon.  “Erosion or exposure of the implant would be a real possibility.”

Of course, there are some who choose not to do anything about the lack of nipple.  If you can get comfortable with the way it looks, the benefit of never nipping out seems pretty nice. 

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to make this sort of decision, but women are making it every day.  So when we’re bringing awareness to breast cancer, it’s important that we bring awareness to all the tough decisions a woman (or man) has to make in her/his journey. 

breast reconstruction photos

Photo credits: Dr. C. Bob Basu; White Tiger Tattoo