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Using a prosthesis

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If you have a mastectomy, you can choose between a prosthesis, an artificial breast form worn under clothing, or reconstructive surgery.

There are many reasons you might choose to wear a prosthesis. These breast forms:

  • create a natural look
  • help your body look and feel balanced without surgery
  • help protect your chest and scars
  • keep your bra from riding up or shifting
  • don’t require any surgery

Choosing between prosthesis and reconstructive surgery

This is a very personal decision. You may have health reasons for choosing one option over the other, but you also should consider other things, such as

  • your willingness to have further surgery
  • your lifestyle
  • how concerned you are about your appearance without clothing
  • how concerned you are about the risks of surgery and recovery
  • how active you are and whether a prosthesis might be cumbersome

Remember, you don’t have to live with your decision forever. You could wear a prosthesis after surgery to remove the cancer and have delayed reconstruction surgery weeks, months or even years later. You may also decide to use a prosthesis long after surgery. For example, if you choose reconstruction with implants but are not satisfied with the result, you may decide to have them removed and use a prosthesis instead.

Whatever you decide, ask your doctor to clearly explain your options and their impact for you. You don’t need to rush your decision.

Types of breast prostheses

Prostheses are available in many shapes, colors, sizes, and materials. Consider visiting a shop that specializes in post-surgical mastectomy products to help you choose. There are two main types of breast prostheses:

  • Lightweight, nonsilicone prosthesis. If you decide breast reconstruction isn’t right for you, or you want to hold off for now, you may wear a temporary, lightweight prosthesis right after surgery.
    • This form may contain polyester fiberfill, air, water or foam rubber. You should wear it for about 6 weeks, the average time the body needs to heal to support a weighted form.
  • Silicone prosthesis. High-quality prostheses tend to be made from silicone, which looks more like natural tissue.
    • Companies make custom forms if you want a more exact match of your skin color, breast density, size or shape.
    • Some standard forms have colored nipples and areola; others contain a nipple without color.
    • Some prostheses have an attachable feature so they stick to your chest wall.

Finding retailers and getting fitted for a prosthesis

You can buy a breast prosthesis at a pharmacy or medical supply store, but shops that focus on post-surgical mastectomy products usually have trained fitters who learn which products are safest and most comfortable. A qualified fitter will consider your bra size, posture, and prosthesis.

Call or have someone call for a first consultation. Some stores require appointments. Also:

  • Call your health insurer to explain your coverage. Find out whether you must buy your prosthesis from certain shops or surgical suppliers.
  • Get a prescription with the proper language so your insurance will reimburse you.
  • Take a support person so you can discuss the experience afterward.

A fitting session can vary, but you can expect a fitter to go through these steps:

  • Examine your skin at the mastectomy site.
  • Measure your bra size.
  • Recommend a prosthesis based on your measurements, health requirements, and emotional needs.
  • Allow you to try on the prosthesis or give you the prosthesis to take home and decide if it works for you.
  • Provide use and care instructions and the return policy.

If you do an Internet search, check sites with a good reputation before buying online. For example, Amoena offers advice and contains photos of women wearing Amoena breast forms and bras. It lists about 2,000 retailers in the U.S. and Canada and has a store locator to help you find one near you.

 

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Reviewed and updated: August 31, 2015

Reviewed by: Clara Lee MD

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to create a world that understands there is more than one way to have breast cancer. To fulfill its mission of providing trusted information and a community of support to those impacted by the disease, Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers on-demand emotional, practical, and evidence-based content. For over 30 years, the organization has remained committed to creating a culture of acceptance — where sharing the diversity of the lived experience of breast cancer fosters self-advocacy and hope. For more information, learn more about our programs and services.

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