How Cancer Patients Really Feel About Tattoos and How to Respond


Tattoos play an important role in treating cancer by ensuring the treatment plan is as accurate as possible. But for some patients, it’s a daily reminder of a dark experience.

Martha Carlson was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She shared her perspective on her treatment marks in a blog post on, a website dedicated to providing updates, research, and education to cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. 

In her blog post, Ms. Carlson states, “They are my only tattoos. There’s a possibility that people who don’t know me well may think the one just to the right of the center of my chest is a freckle, and even those who do know me are probably not looking for these particular signs of cancer. But I notice them every day. I thought I’d eventually forget about these tattoos, but that hasn’t happened.”

Tattoos aren’t for everyone

The Breast Journal recently published an article that surveyed 142 breast cancer survivors. Participants were asked about their feelings regarding tattoos for radiation therapy.

“Only 7% describe positive feelings. While 22% are undecided, approximately 70% of the women score them as negative. Reinforcing these findings, 78% of the interviewed women stated they would choose treatment which avoided tattoos or marks, even if additional efforts were required, for example, additional costs, distance, time for travel, etc.”

Carlson’s negative feelings are echoed by this study. Tattoos are a memorial for a dark and hard-fought battle against cancer. There are artists who cover mastectomy scars and tattoo marks, but many patients prefer a temporary mark.

Temporary marks a great alternative to permanent tattoos

Temporary marks are a great solution for patients that don’t want tattoos. However, for therapists the concern question that arises is “how do we protect the temporary marks?”

Temporary marks can, of course, be washed away or disappear over time. It’s critical for treatment setup that these marks remain through the length of the treatment, up to 8 weeks.

Many treatment facilities will use a thin, transparent, membrane-like, waterproof polyurethane medical dressing that adheres to the skin.

Intended primarily for wound and catheter site protection, the dressing often needs to be cut down into small patches and is difficult and time consuming to handle.

As a nursing dressing these are designed to stay on the skin from 24-48 hours but have been known to stay on for a day to a week and will need to be re-covered several times throughout the course of treatment. More concerning, however, is that many patients complain of aggravated irritation from the dressing to their already compromised skin from the radiation treatment.

A better way to protect temporary marks throughout entire course of treatment  

To address this challenge for radiation therapists, Beekley Medical introduced PointGuards® temporary mark covers.

These pre-cut, clear adhesive covers were made specifically with long-term set-up mark protection in mind. PointGuards are easy to apply, provide a watertight seal and stay in place for up to 4 weeks and are proven to be less irritating to skin than other methods.

“I do my normal routine,” says Elaine, a breast cancer patient from New London, CT. “I shower, go out, take my walks, sweat in the sun, and I don’t even know they’re there. They feel like part of my skin.” 

To better protect those temporary marks and care for your patients concerns, contact your Radiation Therapy Business Development Manager at 1-800-233-5539 or email

Jonathan McCullough

Jonathan McCullough

Product Manager

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