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A breast prosthesis is an artificial breast form used to imitate the natural shape of a breast after a mastectomy, or in some cases, after breast-conserving surgery.
The decision to use a breast prosthesis is a very personal one. It is based on a woman’s feelings, desires, lifestyle and other factors.
- Some women may wear a prosthesis while they are deciding on, or waiting for, reconstruction surgery.
- Other women may choose to permanently use a breast prosthesis instead of having reconstruction surgery.
- Some women may choose not to wear a breast form at all.
Breast prostheses are sold in stores that specialize in post-mastectomy products.
Types of breast prostheses
There are different types of breast prostheses. Prostheses and nipple shapes on the breast form come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours.
Prostheses can be worn with a woman’s regular bra or a special mastectomy bra. A mastectomy bra has a pocket sewn into it for the prosthesis. Regular bras can also be adapted by sewing a pocket into the cup.
A temporary prosthesis is a soft, light form that can be pinned inside of clothes or worn inside a loose-fitting bra. It is sometimes called a “puff.”
A temporary prosthesis is made of material that will not rub or hurt the healing area on a woman’s chest. It is tucked into the bra cup to provide a smoother shape. A bra extender may make the bra more comfortable until the swelling from surgery goes down.
A permanent prosthesis is designed to look, weigh and move like a natural breast. They are made from silicone, foam or other materials. When properly fitted, a permanent prosthesis provides balance for good posture and helps prevent back and neck problems that can happen when a breast has been removed. It also prevents the bra from sliding up and gives a natural shape to clothing.
Some permanent prostheses attach directly to the skin on the chest with a special kind of glue. Others are inserted into a regular bra or a mastectomy bra.
A woman can be fitted for a permanent prosthesis 4–6 weeks after surgery, when the incision has healed and the swelling has gone.
These tips may help when shopping for a permanent prosthesis:
- Go with a partner, or a good friend, for support and feedback.
- Make an appointment with a certified fitter who is trained and experienced in fitting breast forms.
- A private appointment can often be made, if this makes the experience more comfortable.
- Wear or take along a form fitting top or sweater, so it will be easier to see how the prosthesis looks.
- Try the prosthesis on in a comfortable, supportive bra.
- Different types of incisions and body shape will affect what feels and looks good.
- Match the form as closely as possible to the shape of the other breast from all angles, not just the front.
- Focus on good fit, comfort and a natural appearance in the bra and under clothing. The form should look good and feel comfortable. It should also stay in place when you move.
- Compare brands, styles and prices. There many options are available.
- Prostheses vary in colour, shape and weight.
- Different stores may carry different brands. It may be helpful to try more than one store.
- If a good fit cannot be found with any standard breast forms, a custom form can be made.
- Ask if the prosthesis can be worn with swimwear.
- Some breast forms are made especially for swimming.
- Check whether a regular swimsuit or a specially designed swimsuit needs to be worn with the breast form.
- Find out how to care for your prosthesis, so that it will keep its shape and function.
A breast prosthesis may feel heavy when a woman first starts to wear it. Wearing it for a few hours a day will help the body adjust. In time, the prosthesis will feel more natural.
The cost of a permanent prosthesis may be covered by provincial health insurance plans or by personal or work health insurance plans.
Most women who have breast-conserving surgery (BCS) do not need a prosthesis to replace the missing breast tissue.
In some cases, a lot of breast tissue is removed during surgery and the breast may look uneven. A partial prosthesis (also called a shaper, shell or equalizer) can be worn over the breast to create a fuller, smoother appearance.
Many breast form manufacturers also make special bras with pockets in the cups to hold the prosthesis in place. These are made to support the weight of the breast form and can usually be bought at stores that carry post-mastectomy products. A trained fitter can also suggest a bra type that will fit and support well. Mastectomy bras are available in a variety of fabrics and colours. Special bras for sleep or leisurewear are also available.
Not every woman needs a special post-mastectomy bra. The right bra may be the one that a woman has always worn. A few adjustments may be all that is needed to make it comfortable. Special pockets can be sewn into a woman’s regular bra to hold the breast form.
Support from someone who has ‘been there’
The Canadian Cancer Society’s peer support program is a telephone support service that matches cancer patients and their caregivers with specially trained volunteers.