Breast Prosthesis Options After Breast Cancer

Having a mastectomy (surgical removal of a breast) or lumpectomy (surgical removal of a tumor or cancer cells) for breast cancer treatment may leave a woman with significant changes to her breast size. Surgical reconstruction may not be possible or wanted, and some women choose to use an external breast prosthesis. A prosthesis, or breast form, comes in many sizes and shapes, are made from different materials, and can vary in price.

This article will review why a breast prosthesis can be helpful. It will also review the types of prostheses and how to get one.

How a Breast Prosthesis Can Help

While many women may want a breast prosthesis for aesthetic and emotional reasons, there are other benefits to getting one.

A good breast prosthesis can:

  • Change your appearance: For most women, the greatest benefit of a prosthesis is to restore their presurgical appearance.
  • Protect your surgical scar: A soft breast prosthesis can provide a cushion as your incisions heal.
  • Prevent your bra from moving around: A well-fitted prosthesis can hold your bra in place so that it fits securely and won't irritate your tender postoperative skin.
  • Help you maintain good balance: Many women are surprised by how a mastectomy or even a lumpectomy can change their center of gravity. A prosthesis may help with this.

Types

Prostheses are available in different sizes, shapes, and skin tones. They can be asymmetrical (designed only for the left or right side) or symmetrical (designed to be used on either side).

Different materials are used to make breast prostheses. Some forms have "nipples" and others are completely smooth. There are even forms available for active sports, including swimming.

What you decide to get will largely depend on your lifestyle and personal preferences.

Material

The material of the prosthesis is either silicone or fiberfill/foam. There are various benefits to each of these types.

A silicone prosthesis may offer the following benefits:

  • It weighs and is shaped like breast tissue.
  • It moves similarly to a natural breast.
  • It's able to be custom-made to match the other breast.
  • It can help with posture and shoulder balance.

One disadvantage is that the weight and material may be less than desirable when exercising, as silicone prostheses can feel heavy and get hot.

A fiberfill or foam prosthesis can offer the following benefits:

  • It can be worn very soon after mastectomy.
  • It's lighter and cooler to wear than silicone.
  • It's less expensive than a silicone prosthesis.

One drawback to a fiberfill or foam prosthesis is that it doesn't have as natural an appearance as a silicone prosthesis.

Style

There are multiple styles and sizes of breast prostheses, including full, partial, shell, or stick-on prostheses.

A full prosthesis is the full size of the breast.

A partial or shell prosthesis can be made from either fiberfill, foam, or silicone, and is usually worn over the remaining breast to make it a similar size as the other breast. It can be tucked into a bra to equalize the breast sizes.

A stick-on prosthesis attaches directly to the chest wall with adhesive strips, directly onto the body. It can be worn with a regular bra and may come in either full or partial breast sizes.

Shape

The shape can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical.

Symmetrical breast prostheses can be used on either side of the chest. Asymmetrical breast prostheses are made for either the right or the left side of the chest.

Getting a Prosthesis

Breast prostheses are available online and in specialty stores, which may be located within a cancer center or be a free-standing store.

Breast prostheses aren't sized like bras, so you can't count on getting a form that fits by simply referencing your bra size.

Getting a professional fitting in a store is ideal. Store employees often have worked with hundreds of women after breast cancer surgery and have experience guiding people to the best products for their particular needs.

The American Cancer Society offers advice on purchasing postsurgical products, as well as a Reach to Recovery program that provides a "starter" mastectomy bra and a temporary breast form until you are able to go for a fitting.

Cost

Before you buy or are fitted for a prosthesis, check with your insurance company to find out what is covered by your plan for your recovery and rehabilitation. Plans vary, but most typically cover two to four mastectomy bras per year, as well as a new prosthesis every one to two years.

It's important to have your healthcare provider prescribe your prosthesis so you'll be reimbursed by your insurance company if you have this type of coverage.

Prosthesis Accessories

Depending on which surgery you've had, you may want to purchase bras or clothing designed to work with your prosthesis.

Mastectomy Bras

Mastectomy bras accommodate breast forms. They have pockets for prostheses and come in various styles and colors. Some have wide straps and comfortable sides to prevent rubbing as you heal, or front closures if lifting your arms is difficult.

helpful clothing options after breast surgery
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Postsurgical Camisoles

There are special camisoles that have pockets to hold your prosthesis and post-op drain bulbs, which collect blood and fluid from the surgical wound. These are great to wear while you are recovering from breast surgery, offering comfort, security (no dangling drain bulbs), and modesty.

Though not considered a true prosthesis, adhesive nipples are available for women who've had breast reconstruction or for those who've had a lumpectomy or a nipple removed and don't require a full breast prosthesis.

Summary

A prosthesis may be desired after having a mastectomy or partial mastectomy to help fill the space left after breast surgery. A prosthesis may be made out of silicone, fiberfill, or foam, and can come in a variety of styles and shapes.

The cost of a prosthesis, along with any other needed accessories, may be covered by insurance. Getting a prosthesis from a specialized store is the best way to get the right prosthesis for your needs.

A Word From Verywell 

While external breast prostheses aren't medically necessary, they can have a positive effect on women, both physically and psychologically, after a mastectomy. With so many options available, you should be able to find the right prosthesis for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does a breast prosthesis last?

    If cared for properly, a breast prosthesis can last for a few years before needing to be replaced.

  • How soon after surgery can you wear a breast prosthesis?

    It depends on the type of surgery and the preference of the surgeon. Some surgeons may have a woman wait for full healing before getting fitted for a breast prosthesis.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jetha ZA, Gul RB, Lalani S. Women experiences of using external breast prosthesis after mastectomy. Asia Pac J Oncol Nurs. 2017;4(3):250-258. doi:10.4103/apjon.apjon_25_17

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Post-mastectomy prosthesis.

  3. American Cancer Society. TLC: Hair Loss and Mastectomy Products.

  4. American Cancer Society. Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act.

Additional Reading

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.

Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
Learn about our editorial process