Mastectomy Left Me With No Left Nipple

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012.  At the time, I had opted to have a mastectomy on my left breast but not have the reconstruction surgery yet.  It was a lot for my family and I to handle so I decided it was best to wait.  At the end of 2016, I had my left breast reconstructed.  I was aware that I wouldn't have a nipple until a few months after the reconstruction.  I know that it is not going to be an actual nipple but rather a tattoo'd one to match my right breast.  Can anyone shed some light on what I'm in for?


F, 50, Rhode Island

Tags:nipples 1 year post-op breast cancer mastectomy

I had a full mastectomy and reconstruction. My surgeon encouraged me to have nipples added to my breasts because my nipples couldn't be preserved, and they are a significant part of the breast's natural beauty. My doctor gave me an option to have a bumped out projection that was tattooed with color or to have 3D nipples tattooed directly onto my reconstructed breasts. I decided on the 3D nipple because they offered me a duplicated look for each breast. I wanted to ensure that my breasts looked even, plus the risk of infection or pain were minimal with tattooed nipples. I'm pleased with the symmetry of my breasts and with my tattooed nipples. Each tattoo took about an hour. The breast tissue healed beautifully, and I'm thrilled with the results!

In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My right breast and nipple were removed during my mastectomy. When I discussed having my breast reconstructed, I was told that my nipple could not be reconstructed at the same time. I was told me that I could undergo nipple reconstruction when my breast healed from the reconstructive surgery. I had my nipple reconstructed four months after my breast reconstruction. As far as nipple reconstruction, I was given a couple of options. I could have my nipple and areola reconstructed from skin from my back. When the nipple heals, I can have it tattooed to make it better match the other breast. My second option was to get a 3d areola tattoo. The tattoo looks like a real nipple. My insurance wouldn't cover the cost, so I decided to go with the nipple reconstruction. I am happy with the results as my breasts look similar to each other.

After two years of wearing a prosthetic nipple following my breast reconstruction surgery, I decided to get a 3D nipple tattoo. My new nipple tattoo looks almost identical to my real nipple—similar color, shape and size. I love it. Before I got my tattoo, I met with my breast surgeon to determine if my skin was healthy enough for the tattoo. My doctor said that if my skin were too thin, I would not be a good candidate for a tattoo. Luckily, my skin was healthy enough, so he checked my chest scars to determine the precise location of my nipple tattoo. In terms of finding a reputable tattoo artist, you should first check with your breast surgeon. My breast surgeon was able to recommend a tattoo artist who specializes in nipple tattoos. Before I allowed the tattoo artist to work on me, I viewed his portfolio and asked about his training and background. After receiving answers that put me at ease, I made an appointment. It took a little over an hour for the artist to tattoo my nipple. Surprisingly, I did not experience any pain, just some minor tingling sensations. I’m glad that I opted for a nipple tattoo, and I think you will be pleased with the results if you decide to get one.

Hey! So, as you know you won’t get your nipple reconstruction done for at LEAST three to four months after your surgery. You can actually choose to wait even longer if you aren’t ready to deal with more surgery.

Are you planning on only doing a tattoo or are you going to do full nipple reconstruction? I did the nipple building with tissue around the area and that was an interesting experience. It looks like a nipple and the surgery wasn’t too hard, but it was just odd to watch it form over time.

The tattoo process itself wasn’t too difficult either. All they do is add color and create a realistic areola. I went to my plastic surgeon and they conducted it in the office using dermabrasion, which meant they used a probe to quickly vibrate pigment into the breast.

It took a few sessions for my nipple to appear in full color but the process wasn’t too bad. I already had a few tattoos so I knew what to expect and I had reduced feeling in my chest from surgeries and radiation.

My nipples are actually fading a little bit and I am getting ready to go in for a second round of tattooing in the next few months.

Hi There,

I am sorry about your battle with breast cancer, but am glad to see you taking the proper steps forward for you and your family.  

Nipple reconstruction can begin roughly 3-4 months after breast reconstruction. Skin used to rebuild the nipple and areola is taken from the breast, back or abdomen. Once the reconstructed nipple has healed, the areola tattooing can start.

Another option is a 3D areola tattoo that has the appearance of a nipple but is created with ink. These tattoos range from $200-$800, a cost that may or may not be reimbursed by insurance.

You can learn more about Areola Tattooing on our blog.