Breast Cancer and Airport Security Screenings

You are Entitled to Privacy During Airport Security Screenings

woman at airport security
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If your doctor clears you for air or cruise travel during treatment, or you have completed treatment, but wear a prosthesis or have tissue expanders, you need to know what may occur when passing through airport or cruise security.

A Chemotherapy Port: If you have a port for receiving chemotherapy, it is often times surgically implanted under your skin in the chest area; it may set off the metal detector as you go through security.

Be sure to:

  • Carry an identification card for your device, which you can show to security staff, as needed.
  • Get a note from your physician, on his or her letterhead if you don’t have the ID card for your port. Your physician needs to describe the location, type and purpose of your port.

Tissue Expanders: If you are having breast reconstruction using a breast implant(s) you will have a tissue expander in place, and there may be a magnet in your expander. The purpose of the magnet is to guide your plastic surgeon in finding the valve where he will insert saline into the expander.

A metal detector wand, which is a hand-held device, usually will find a magnet. Be sure to get a note from your surgeon or an I.D.card that identifies where the magnet is, and why you have it in you. Be prepared to share I.D. information with security personnel when asked to do so.

Treatment Syringes: Medicine you take by injection must go through the X-ray machines.

You will need to carry a letter from your doctor, on his or her letterhead, identifying why you need this medicine. The letter needs to describe the medication in detail. It is important to carry a complete and up to date list of all your medications that you can show to security personnel.

I have traveled by air and by cruise ship since having a bilateral mastectomy, and twice had problems getting through security.

I was fortunate to speak privately with security personnel that were knowledgeable about breast prostheses.   

Not every woman is so fortunate. Several months ago, a flight attendant’s experience going through airport security made national news as she was put through an extensive search even after she explained that she was wearing a breast prosthesis.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), wants passengers who are breast cancer survivors to know that during the security screening, they have the option of undergoing screening by use of advanced imaging technology or a pat-down. Metal detectors are still in use in all airports.

During the Security Screening:

  • If you require additional screening, you may ask that the pat-down take place in a private area.
  • You are entitled to have a companion present to witness the pat-down in a private screening area.
  • If standing is difficult, you may ask to be seated during the pat-down procedure.
  • Ask TSA security to handle additional screenings as privately as possible.
  • Do not agree, if asked, to lift or remove clothing to show your prosthesis, and do not  remove your prosthesis.
  • If you have your prosthesis or mastectomy bra in your suitcase, it will be allowed through the checkpoint after it is screened. Your prosthesis or bra does not fall under the 3-1-1 rules for liquids, gels, and aerosols. It is considered a medical necessity. You are also entitled  to having your bag be screened in a private setting.

    To Make Screening Easier:

    • If you wear a breast prosthesis, inform the security officer. If you are more comfortable handing the officer a card identifying you as a breast cancer survivor, this is also acceptable. The TSA has a template you can use that can be found at by clicking here. Note: The TSA notification card will not take the place of a required screening. It is designed  to protect passengers’ privacy and is a more discrete way of communicating with TSA personnel

    • If you think you will have a difficult time undergoing the screening process, feel free to get in touch with the Customer Support and Quality Improvement Manager and ask their help. There is usually one at every airport.
    • Should the officer screening you fail to respond to your questions, or if you are upset with the way the screening process is being conducted, request to speak with a supervisor.