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Airport Security Asked Cancer Survivor to Remove Breast Prosthesis in Public

Can airport security require the removal of a breast prosthesis? And what should travelers do is asked?

It is nerve-wracking to pass through airport security and have the scanners beep at you. For Realtán Ní Leannáin, the situation turned worse when she was asked to remove her breast prosthesis at Dublin Airport by security staff. 

Breast prostheses are often used by those who have had a mastectomy. An external prosthesis is worn outside the body, sometimes in the pocket of a mastectomy bra.

While on her way to Donegal, Leannáin’s breast form set off the scanner. She explained the situation to the security officer, but she was asked to remove her prosthesis in public. Leannáin, who had had a mastectomy, was caught off guard. In Amsterdam and Glasgow, she had been able give an explanation, but the Dublin staffer wanted to see her prosthesis.

She told BBC Northern Ireland’s Evening Extra program that the security officer didn’t offer a pat down, “She stood and waited for me to remove the prosthesis. I couldn’t actually think. Every time I attempted to rationalize it, I couldn’t.”

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When the prosthesis was half out, Leannáin was given the okay to go ahead, but said that she was “like a rabbit caught in the headlights” when the incident happened.

Leannáin wrote to DAA, the operator of Dublin Airport, to ensure that it wouldn’t be repeated, but they couldn’t assure her. She wants airports to clearly mention protocols on their websites to make it easier for people in similar positions. “I would like to see it up on websites or with airlines, where you go to book your ticket and you’re told you can’t bring on scissors or x amount of liquids,” she said.  

The operator apologized for the incident and admitted that it could have been handled better. The spokesperson also said that passengers can ask for a private screening, which is conducted by a trained member of the staff. “Regrettably, this did not happen on the day in question. We offer a full apology to the passenger and can assure her that steps have been taken to ensure a similar situation is avoided in the future.”

This isn’t a lone incident. In 2022, a woman in Australia was patted down while traveling one way, and on return, was taken into a private room to remove her artificial breast after her prosthesis alarmed the scanner. Sue Watkins, who had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation that some staff members didn’t know what it was and security would not accept a doctor’s letter. After the incident, the Breast Cancer Network Australia called for airport security to treat passengers with breast prostheses sensitively.

That same year, Canberra Airport partnered with Cancer Council ACT to train staff on the matter—they were introduced to different breast forms, educated on how passengers may feel, and made aware of the language they may use with people who have these concerns.

In the U.S., there was an outcry in 2010 when a TSA officer forced a woman to show her prosthesis during a pat-down. Flight attendant and cancer survivor Cathy Bossi declined to do a full-body scan due to radiation concerns, and after she explained that she was wearing a breast form, she was asked to remove it. 

Know Your Rights When Traveling With a Prosthesis

The first thing to know is that you can request a private screening at any point during the screening process and may even ask for  a witness of your choice to be present. It will be conducted by an officer of the same gender, the TSA explains on its website. “Since pat-down screening is conducted to determine whether prohibited items are concealed under clothing, sufficient pressure must be applied in order to ensure detection. You should inform the officer if you have a medical condition or any areas that are painful when touched.”

In a video on traveling with cancer, the agency makes it clear that breast prosthesis and mastectomy bras are considered medically necessary and you can wear them through screening. You shouldn’t be asked to remove or reveal your breast prosthesis. At any point, you can also request to speak with a supervisor. Call 72 hours before your flight to talk to a TSA support specialist and get assistance at the checkpoint. Helpline number: (855) 787-2227.


The employee who forced that poor woman to do that in public should be forced to apologize publicly regardless of when the incident occurred. Give them the type of justice that a Federal judge I knew of who gave a convicted thief (some type of Federal crime) the option of spending three or four years in prison or wear a sign for a few hours a day for a certain length of time stating what he did and that he was a thief. Hopefully that guy never made that mistake again.  Of course, that was a number of years ago when there was a certain amount of guilt and shame associated with a crime. I understand mistakes can happen. As a breast cancer surviror, I cannot even begin to fathom the pain and humiliation that woman went through. It is not enough for the airline to ensure it never happens again. Sometimes companies whether it be airlines or whatever have to feel the burn before they take anything seriously.

sophiae6953 April 15, 2024

How humilitating. If you have people who actually know how to read the monitors, this should never happen. A pat down should suffice. I think some of these people just have a sense of power and weild it because they don't feel good about themselves.