Breast Prostheses Options After Breast Cancer

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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, also called breast forms, come in many sizes and shapes, are made from a few different materials, and vary in price. Here's what to know.

How a Breast Prosthesis Can Help

While many women may want a breast prostheses for aesthetic reasons, there are other benefits to getting one that may make it an attractive option for those who might otherwise not have been considering it.

A good breast prosthesis 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.
  • 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.

Prosthesis Options

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

Different materials (silicone, foam rubber, fiberfill, or cotton) 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.

Silicone Prostheses

  • Weight and drape the most similar to breast tissue

  • Will have some movement, similar to a real breast

  • Can be custom-made so your breasts match

  • Can feely heavy and hot, especially during exercise

Non-Silicone Prostheses

  • Weight and drape notably different than a real breast

  • Can be worn as soon as you'd like after a mastectomy

  • Lighter and cooler to wear than silicone

  • The least expensive options

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.

Getting 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

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 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.

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.

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.

A Word From Verywell 

While external breast prostheses 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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