Some women who’ve undergone breast cancer surgery see their scars as an empowering symbol of beating breast cancer, but some women do not. For many women, breast surgery scars impact their self-confidence, intimacy, and body image, which can significantly affect their quality of life.
A surgical approach called hidden scar surgery may be an option for women who choose to hide their scars. “Hidden scar surgery is this new emerging topic that you’re trying to, as much as you can, hide the scar from being visible to the patient,” says Jaime Alberty-Oller, MD, breast cancer oncologist and surgeon at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“The idea there is that you’re trying to offer the woman the chance not to be reminded of her breast cancer surgery every single day when she looks at herself in the mirror,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.
How Hidden Scar Surgery Works
Breast cancer can be surgically removed with a lumpectomy (where your surgeon removes only part of your breast tissue) or a mastectomy (where the surgeon removes all of your breast tissue). “Hidden scar surgery can be applied to both a lumpectomy and a mastectomy,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller. (Learn more about lumpectomy and mastectomy surgery here.)
With a hidden scar approach, your surgeon place your incision in a hard-to-see location, so that the scar is not easily visible when the incision heals.
Hidden Scar Lumpectomy: In a lumpectomy procedure, the surgeon will remove the breast cancer tumor and a small portion of the surrounding tissue, but will save the majority of the breast (including the nipple area).
“When you talk about hidden scar lumpectomy, there are different approaches that can be used for us to access a cancer while still hiding the scar,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller. There are three different locations that make the lumpectomy scar less visible:
inframammary fold (the natural crease beneath the breast)
along the areola border (the darkened area next to the nipple)
You may be considered for a hidden scar lumpectomy depending on the size of the tumor and whether or not the cancer has traveled beyond the breast, which is known as metastasis. (Learn more about metastatic breast cancer.)
Hidden Scar Mastectomy: In a mastectomy procedure, the surgeon removes breast cancer tumor by removing all of the breast tissue. There are several approaches for mastectomy, including a simple (total) mastectomy, skin-sparing mastectomy, and nipple-sparing hidden scar mastectomy.
In a nipple-sparing hidden scar mastectomy, the surgeon removes all of the breast tissue, but does not remove the nipple. “When you talk about hidden scar mastectomy surgery, you’re usually talking about hiding the scar under the breast, in what we call the inframammary fold,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.
You may be considered for a hidden scar nipple-sparing mastectomy if no cancerous tissue is found in the nipple or if you have a non-invasive cancer.
“I think the majority of patients that get diagnosed with cancer just want the cancer out,” says says Dr. Alberty-Oller. “They just want treatment, and if the cancer is removed safely and the breast looks fine, they will be happy with that.”