Everything you need to know about Mastectomy scars
Mastectomy Scars: Everything You Need To Know

Mastectomy Scars: Everything You Need To Know

Dana Donofree
7 min read

Mastectomy Scars: Everything You Need To Know

If you’re preparing for a mastectomy, you might be concerned about the scars you’ll have after surgery. While mastectomy scars are simply a part of having this procedure, there are many ways to minimize their visibility. Read on to discover the different types of mastectomies, how they scar, and ways to reduce your scarring without breast reconstruction. 

Molly plunge bra

Different Types Of Mastectomies And How They Scar

When it comes to mastectomy scars, the shape and overall  look of the scars will depend on several factors, including the procedure type and how much tissue is removed. A lumpectomy or a partial mastectomy, for example, will look a lot different than undergoing a double mastectomy.

Here are a few types of mastectomies and what your scars may look like once you’ve healed after each procedure type.

Partial Mastectomy

  • What is it:  A partial mastectomy procedure is when the surgeon removes the tumor in your breast, along with some of the surrounding tissue to minimize the possibility that the cancer doesn’t return. A partial mastectomy usually doesn’t change the appearance of your breast, but it may leave one breast slightly bigger than the other, and you’ll have a scar from the surgical site.
  • What does the scar look like?  The scar after a partial mastectomy can vary. It can be a small straight scar across your breast or may be more hidden beneath your breast or under your nipple. Typically, these scars are on the smaller side and can be more easily concealed than scars from other mastectomies.

Skin-Sparing Mastectomy

  • What is it:  In a skin-sparing mastectomy, the plastic surgeon will remove your breast tissue, nipple, areola, and one or more lymph nodes. This surgery is usually chosen for those who want to reconstruct their breasts immediately after a mastectomy.
  • What does the scar look like?  This type of surgery will usually leave a large to medium-sized scar across the top of your breast.  

Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy

  • What is it:  The nipple sparing procedure removes all your breast tissue (in one or both boobs), but your skin and areola are spared. This procedure is typically used for those who are in their earlier stages of breast cancer or who are at high risk for developing breast cancer and elect to undergo preventive breast surgery.
  • What does the scar look like?  You’ll likely see a scar underneath or on the side of your breast. However, this scar can be more hidden if your surgeon can operate by making an incision at the crease of your breast.

Simple Or Total Mastectomy

  • What is it:  In this type of surgery, the surgeon will remove your entire breast or breasts, including the areola and nipple, in addition to sometimes removing lymph nodes. Breast skin will be removed too, but the amount depends on if the patient would like to undergo reconstructive surgery after or not. Removing one breast is called a unilateral mastectomy, while removing both breasts is called a double mastectomy.
  • What does the scar look like?  The scar in a simple mastectomy crosses your chest horizontally. This scar will be visible; it tends to be on the larger side, especially when compared with the scars that result from other surgical procedures.

Modified Radical Mastectomy

  • What is it:  This type of mastectomy is similar to a total or simple mastectomy, with the addition of lymph node removal. A modified radical mastectomy removes most lymph nodes in the armpits along with all breast tissue, skin, nipple, and areola.
  • What does the scar look like?  This surgery will leave a scar across your chest. Due to the amount of tissue being removed, your scar will be on the larger and noticeable end.

How Long Does It Take For A Mastectomy Scar To Heal?

After your surgery, you can expect to spend at least several weeks in recovery as irritation subsides, swelling goes down, and your wounds heal. However, scars take a lot longer to heal. You can expect the scar healing process to take  one year or even two years, depending on your own immunity. However, scars never go away completely; they will always be a part of your new post-surgery body. 

Front closure bra

Surgical Ways To Reduce Scarring 

It’s not uncommon to want to reduce a scar after surgery. Scars can not only deal a blow to your confidence, but they can be painful, too. Too much scar tissue can interfere with everyday activities like moving around or wearing clothing (that’s why AnaOno’s bras are all underwire-free!). These kinds of scars are called keloid scars, or scars that appear bigger, have thicker tissue, or look more pronounced than the initial surgical site. For those reasons, you may want to explore surgical ways to reduce your scar. 

Your surgeon will remove scar tissue to help smooth its appearance and reduce irritation. While you can’t completely remove a scar, your surgeon can make sure that the scar lies as flat as possible against your chest.

There are two avenues you can take when it comes to surgery: scar removal surgery, and scar revision surgery.

  • Scar removal surgery.  While you can remove a scar with surgery, there’s a chance that a new scar will develop, but it will be smaller and less noticeable. Two common procedures include  punch grafting, which involves punching a hole where a scar formed and “plugging” that hole with new skin, or  skin grafts. Both of these procedures take skin from a different area of your body.
  • Scar revision surgery.  A scar revision surgery is a great technique for minimizing or flattening your scar. Depending on how your scar healed, the surgeon may remove excess scar tissue or use laser surgery to smooth its appearance, to give you two examples.

Non-Surgical Ways To Minimize The Appearance Of Mastectomy Scars

Although you can’t entirely erase a scar, you can reduce its appearance in other ways, especially if you don’t want to undergo surgery, your scar isn’t painful or interfering with daily life, or you’ve been advised not to undergo elective surgery. Here are four ways to reduce scarring without needing to have reconstructive surgery. 

Injections: Typically steroid injections, this medication can help reduce itching and irritation, as well as the size or appearance of a scar. Injections are often administered alongside other therapies.

Cryotherapy: involves exposing your scar to ultra-cold temperatures. Multiple studies conducted on cryotherapy for keloid scars found that this therapy may reduce a scar’s appearance, as well as minimize symptoms and side effects that stem from the scar. Oftentimes, cryotherapy is performed alongside steroid injections and other therapies.

Pressure therapy: involves wearing a device that applies constant pressure to your scar. These can be bandages, compression wraps, or a  more custom device. These devices are often worn for months at a time for extended periods, and are often not worn without other medical interventions like a steroid injection. 

Topicals: Your medical team may recommend certain over the counter (OTC) creams or prescription topicals that can help reduce the appearance of a scar or soften scar tissue. There are many options available on the market; your surgeon may have a specific brand or prescription they prefer.

Covering Up Your Mastectomy Scars

If you don’t want to undergo either surgical or non-surgical methods for reducing your mastectomy scars, you may want to look into tattoos as a unique way to reclaim and celebrate your new body. 

Mastectomy Tattoos: Whether you’ve had a single or double mastectomy, mastectomy tattoos provide an artistic (and badass) way to hide scars without surgery or injections. You can create a gorgeous piece of art on your chest that celebrates the new you, commemorates your breast cancer experience, or simply uplifts your spirits whenever you see beautiful art instead of scars on your body. Before booking an appointment, make sure to research artists to find one that best suits you and your design needs. If you’re looking for some ideas to celebrate your unique body, follow the link for some  inspiring mastectomy tattoos

A 3D nipple tattoo can be the final step after a mastectomy and reconstruction (or on a flat chest). During the process, a tattoo artist creates a realistic, dimensionalized tattoo that recreates the appearance of a nipple. Best of all, this procedure is completely non-invasive and truly looks like the real deal. There’s some seriously incredible artistry out there!

If you’re considering this procedure, it’s important to choose an artist who specializes in 3D nipple tattoos. You can find this person at a tattoo parlor or through a plastic surgery center. Before choosing your artist, conduct some research and look into their previous work to ensure that the artist you choose is right for you. 

Helpful Tips To Reduce The Appearance Of Mastectomy Scars

Here are a few helpful and affordable tips you can do to minimize scarring while you heal.

  • Avoid smoking.  While you may think smoking only causes damage to your lungs, it also does damage to your skin. If you smoke,  your wounds won’t heal as quickly, which leaves a larger amount of scar tissue. It can also discolor your skin.
  • Avoid sun exposure.  If you enjoy being out in the sun all year round, it’s important to keep your skin protected with sunscreen. Too much sun exposure can cause more discoloration in scars.
  • Get a scar massage.  A scar massage can loosen tough tissue that makes it difficult to move. This may also make your scar less noticeable over time.
  • Use silicone.  Silicone sheets and gel are great tools to use when it comes to healing your scar. The hydrating silicone can make your scar smoother while reducing its size and color. These can easily be purchased at your local pharmacy or your doctor can prescribe them.
  • Try zinc.  Zinc is mainly used to reduce inflammation, which in return can help your scar heal faster. 

Support Healing And Reduce Scar Pain With AnaOno

Long after you’ve healed from your mastectomy surgery, you’ll still need comfortable clothing that won’t irritate your scars. Whether you have a large incision from a double mastectomy or a small scar from a lumpectomy, switching to supportive wire-free bras can go a long way to keep you comfortable.

At AnaOno, all our bras are wire-free and made from our softest modal fabric, so they’re way less likely to irritate your body and exacerbate any mastectomy scar pain you may have. For further details,  shop our mastectomy collection to find the beautiful new bra that speaks to you. 

revealing scar from under stomach
Dana Donofree
Dana Donofree

Founder and CEO of AnaOno. After a diagnosis of breast cancer in her late 20’s, Dana took her own lived experience and fashion design background and (re)designed intimates for those that have undergone breast surgery. Dana’s story has been published around the world in outlets like New York Times, BBC, Huffington Post, The Today Show, and more.