Breast Prostheses Options After Breast Cancer

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How can you find an external breast prosthesis that is right for you?. Cultura RM Exclusive/Natalie Faye/Getty Images

After having a mastectomy or lumpectomy for breast cancer, you may want to use a breast prosthesis to even out your bustline and make you feel more like your old self. Prostheses come in many different sizes, shapes, materials, and price points. Here's what to know.

How a Breast Prosthesis Can Help

A good breast prosthesis (sometimes called a breast form) can:

  • Balance and normalize your appearance: For most women, the greatest benefit of a prosthesis is to restore their "usual" appearance after going through surgery.
  • 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 post-surgery skin.
  • 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.

Materials Used in Breast Prostheses

Breast prostheses are made of silicone, foam rubber, or fiberfill. Here are the characteristics of each:

Silicone Prostheses

A silicone breast prosthesis comes the closest to imitating breast tissue in weight and drape. A good prosthesis will also have some movement, similar to your real breast. Silicone prostheses can be custom made so that your breasts match. One downside of silicone is that it can feel heavy or hot, particularly during exercise.

Non-Silicone Prostheses

A non-silicone breast prosthesis may be made of foam rubber, fiberfill or cotton. These are lighter in weight than silicone prostheses and can be worn as soon as you'd like after a mastectomy. If you are physically active, this kind of prosthesis may be for you. A non-silicone breast prosthesis doesn't have the weight and drape of a real breast, but it is cooler to wear and less expensive than silicone.

Types of Prostheses

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

Some forms have "nipples" and others are completely smooth. There are forms available for active sports, including swimming.

A partial breast prosthesis is a small "equalizer" to help fill out your bra on your surgery side if you've had a lumpectomy or a quandrantectomy (segmental mastectomy). These are made of silicone, foam rubber, or fiberfill. A partial breast prosthesis can be tucked into your regular bra or into the pocket of a mastectomy bra.

An attachable breast prosthesis, also called a contact prosthesis, has adhesive strips or Velcro tabs, which allow you to attach it directly onto your body. This kind of prosthesis will move with you, and it can be worn with a regular bra. Contact prostheses come in full-breast sizes and partial breast shapes. If you don't want to wear a mastectomy bra you might want to consider an attachable prosthesis.

Prosthesis Accessories

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

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.

Post-Surgical Camisoles

There are special camisoles that have pockets to hold your prosthesis and post-surgery drainage bulbs. 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.

How to Choose a Prosthesis

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

Getting a professional fitting in an actual store is ideal. These stores have fitters who have worked with hundreds of women after breast cancer surgery and have experience guiding people to the best products for their particular needs. Breast prostheses aren't sized like bras, so you can't count on getting a form that fits by simply referencing your bra size.

The American Cancer Society offers advice on purchasing post-surgery 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.

Insurance Coverage for a Prosthesis

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

It's important to have your doctor write a prescription for your prosthesis so you'll be reimbursed by your insurance company if prosthetics are covered by your plan.

A Word From Verywell 

While an external breast prosthesis isn't necessary, studies suggest that they 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.

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