A new areola: Nipple tattoos after cancer

After Priscilla Filippelli, 49, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had both her breasts removed and then reconstructed.

But one thing prevented her from closing the book on cancer: areola restoration.

“It was like looking at a face without features,” Filippelli,  from New Jersey,  said of her new breasts without nipples.

When women undergo breast reconstruction, aerola reconstruction is part of the process.

In Filippelli’s case, doctors first used a skin graft from her thigh to replace her areola, but her body rejected it.

It was then that her surgeon recommended getting a tattoo.

“I had no desire to get it done until I saw pictures,” Filippelli said. “It’s as close to natural as possible.”

She met with permanent cosmetician Melany Whitney, a Pratt-educated fine artist who paints permanent areolae onto cancer survivor’s breasts.

“Women are fighting for their lives to beat breast cancer,” said Whitney, who has offices in Manhattan, New Jersey and Florida. “But they are always reminded of it, every single day, by this mound of flesh that doesn’t look like it was supposed to.”

The procedure, which consists of two two-hour tattoo sessions, creates the “illusion of protrusion,” said Whitney. She uses shading and cosmetic inks to create the illusion of a three-dimensional nipple.

“As they look at what they used to have reformed, they are happy,” Whitney said.  “It’s finally the end of their journey — and they actually see that.”

Getting ‘inked’

Whitney  uses specially designed cosmetic inks that are more subdued and natural than ordinary tattoo inks. 

She also can use a topical anesthetic if the area is sensitive, so patients feel no pain.

“We talk about what they used to look like; but now, they can decide what they would like to look like,” Whitney said.

Most out-of-network insurance will cover the nipple tattoos, which can cost up to $3,000 without coverage.

Follow Emily Anne Epstein on Twitter @EmilyatMetro.


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