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Nipple Tattoos: Making Breast Cancer Survivors Feel Whole Again

Published on | Kylie Chin

Women with breast cancer are traveling from all over the country and as far as India to the town of Finksburg, MD for something unusual—a three-dimensional nipple tattoo.

Vinnie Myers, owner of Little Vinnie’s Tattoos, has been providing natural looking nipple tattoos to women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer for over a decade. With a waiting list that exceeds four months, Myers no longer offers traditional tattoos and instead focuses exclusively on rendering nipple tattoos. His tattoo parlor, on the other hand, continues to provide custom ink for any design and pattern imaginable.

“Five years ago I thought I would stop doing this because it was taking over everything I was doing,” says Myers.

But just when he planned to stop taking appointments for nipple tattoos, Myers received a call from his sister with troubling news—she had breast cancer. The tattoo artist took it as a sign that he had to continue.

Breast Reconstruction after a Mastectomy

For many breast cancer patients, the nipple and areola are removed in an operation known as a mastectomy. While some women choose to live without breasts after the operation, others undergo reconstructive surgery to rebuild the size and shape of the breast(s) removed.

Doctors can also perform a skin graft to reconstruct the natural look of the nipple, but the procedure is not as common because of the risk of unnatural scarring. A more popular alternative is nipple tattooing, a procedure that is usually performed by a breast surgeon.

The problem, according to Myers, is that most medical professionals are not properly trained or equipped for detailed tattooing. With only hours of basic tattoo instruction and limited color options, most surgeons lack the skill to create a one-dimensional tattoo in the right pigment.

“We’ve spent our entire lives learning the craft of tattooing,” said Myers. “It’s kind of a no-brainer that a tattoo artist should be doing this, not a nurse.”

Nipple Tattoos: A Win-Win Deal

Although nipple tattoos may not be as artistically satisfying as a full sleeve or a back piece, Myers says he gains an even greater sense of accomplishment that he can help breast cancer survivors feel more comfortable in their own skin. It’s a win-win deal.

Myers has tattooed more than 5,000 breast cancer survivors throughout his career. At a price of $600-$800, most insurance companies deny coverage for the tattoo since Myers is not a licensed health care provider.

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