If you have breast cancer or are a survivor, you are among more than 3 million survivors of breast cancer in the U.S. Many of them have scars from mastectomies or other life-saving surgeries. Though everyone’s journey is different, these surgical scars can add to both the emotional and physical burdens of recovery.
Oncology nurses and therapists have long advised stretching and massaging the surgical area to aid recovery. Beyond these techniques, modern technology offers ways to minimize, remove, or conceal scarring, ensuring that those undergoing reconstruction or breast cancer removal surgeries can play an active role in deciding how they want to look after breast cancer.
Patient-centered tools like previsualization, less invasive surgical techniques, laser-treatments, Botox, and tattoos can all help empower you to define your own appearance following a mastectomy, lumpectomy, or other breast cancer procedure.
Previsualization refers to the creation of visual or even tactile projections of what your body will look like at the end of your breast cancer journey. This might include simple drawings or more sophisticated apps.
Previsualization doesn’t directly minimize scarring, but it can help manage expectations and aid communication between you and your surgeon, ensuring that you stay on the same page at every step and that you can play an active role in understanding and determining your future appearance.
Advancements in Surgical Procedures
Dignity Health Marian Regional Medical Center offers several new procedures that can treat breast cancer less invasively than historical techniques.
For example, “lumpectomies” remove cancerous tissue without affecting the majority of the breast skin and tissue. If a nipple-saving mastectomy is necessary, the patented Hidden Scar® technique makes an incision in the natural crease beneath the breast. This technique eliminates visible scarring, as all incision marks are hidden beneath the natural curve of the breast and within the fold.
Most patients who are good candidates for a nipple-sparing mastectomy are also candidates for this technique, with the exception of patients who are very large-breasted.
Lasers may help to resurface scarred skin, minimizing the appearance of surgical scars. The American Society of Dermatological Surgery explains that laser resurfacing can improve the appearance of skin by gently removing its top layers. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and erbium lasers can both be used to treat scarring from breast cancer and reconstruction surgeries. According to a scientific review of 25 studies focused on using lasers for wounds and scars, laser-treating during the early inflammation phase shows the most potential improvement.
Botox (botulinum toxin A) has been used to treat fine lines for decades. A recent study shared by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons showed that among patients who had reconstructive surgery of the face, Botox treatment could improve the appearance of surgical scars.
Botox may prevent scar formation, too, and can treat established traumatic scarring when applied with other techniques including laser resurfacing, dermal fillers, and surgery, according to a study published in The Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery.
Tattoos are an ancient practice, used since Neolithic times. For many breast cancer survivors, tattoos are also an opportunity to transform breast cancer scars into body art.
“Mastectomy tattoos” are growing in popularity across the U.S. For example, Chicago tattoo artist David Allen wrote about his work for breast cancer survivors in the Journal of the American Medical Association. To date, Allen has worked with some 70 breast cancer survivors from all over the world. His mastectomy tattoos cover the chest wall and/or the nipple area to transform or conceal scars. His work offers survivors a chance to reclaim their bodies and self-determine their response to a mastectomy through art.
Scars and Recovery
Scarring is a natural part of the body’s healing process, but for many people, scars can add to the discomfort and psychological difficulty of recovering from a breast cancer diagnosis.
Whether you want to celebrate the changes brought by a mastectomy or minimize them, modern technology offers many options. Begin the process of deciding what’s right for you by doing some research and having a conversation with your doctor. She or he can help you understand the benefits and risks of your options.