More Than Just a Tattoo

by Josh Kerr | Dec 14, 2020
CancerCare providing renewed self-image for breast cancer survivors.

Two years ago, a gap was identified for breast cancer survivors who could not pay for nipple and areola tattooing to complete their breast reconstruction. Now, thanks in part to a three-year grant commitment from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's Women's Endowment Fund (WEF), support is being provided to the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation to make this possible. 

Last year, an estimated 860 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in Manitoba. Those diagnosed with breast cancer each have their own unique journey. About 300 women choose to have breast reconstruction each year. As part of the initial surgery, many women will have the nipple and areola removed. Once the body has had time to heal physically, a final step for many women and men is to have the nipple and areola restored through tattooing to recreate this area. Annually, about one percent of men are diagnosed with breast cancer. These men usually have their breast tissue removed (mastectomy) and can also access this nipple and areola tattooing. 

In 2019, close to 100 breast cancer survivors chose to have nipple and areola tattooing to complete their breast reconstruction journey.

"A couple of years ago, CancerCare Manitoba became aware of the need for this service," says Lorena Gerl, CancerCare Manitoba's Program Leader for Patient and Family Support Services. "For many women and men, it has a huge emotional impact on their overall sense of well-being and sense of self; it really improves the patient's experience." 

With the help of the WEF Grant, the service is now available at no cost. The program is coordinated by the CancerCare Manitoba Breast and Gyne Cancer Centre of Hope. 
The nipple and areola tattooing services are offered through a partnership between CancerCare Manitoba and the Health Sciences Centre Plastics Clinic. With grant funding, a tattoo artist is hired who is specially trained and experienced in Nipple and Areola Micropigmentation. 

The following quotes show how valued this service is by those who have shared their experience on an evaluation survey. 

"It's hard to put into words the difference this has made in how I feel about my body. A hundred percent change for the positive, a total completion." 

"It took me a long time to have enough courage to do it; I had forgotten how nipples actually looked. It looks so real. This is more than just a tattoo. This has given me a part of my life back that I thought was gone forever." 

Although the program is currently on hold due to the current Code Red restrictions, women and men who are eligible can find more information through the CancerCare Manitoba Breast & Gyne Cancer Centre of Hope at 204-787-2970 or
Toll-free, 1-866-561-1026