After a mastectomy or lumpectomy, you might be eager to find the right breast prosthesis — an artificial form that resembles the breast. Several types of breast prostheses are available, and finding one that helps you look and feel your best can be an important step in recovery from breast cancer surgery.
Although some people may opt for breast reconstruction surgery or breast implants after a mastectomy, others who choose to remain flat may want a prosthesis that is worn externally. Even with breast reconstruction, an external prosthetic can sometimes be helpful.
In addition to helping enhance your appearance by providing a more natural and balanced look, other reasons to consider a breast prosthesis include:
A permanent prosthesis, which is designed to last two years or more, requires a prescription. Your doctor will determine when you’re ready for a permanent breast prosthesis — generally, six to eight weeks after surgery. Talk to your health insurance company or Medicare about your insurance plan’s coverage for breast prostheses.
Most breast forms are made of soft silicone gel and covered with a thin protective material. A silicone prosthesis, or silicone breast, generally has the consistency and weight of a natural breast. Breast prostheses can also be made out of foam or fiberfill. Some forms are filled with tiny polypropylene beads, which are lighter and cooler and may be preferred for hot weather or exercise.
You may want to work with a certified mastectomy fitter, a trained health care professional who specializes in postmastectomy breast forms — also known as prosthetic breasts. Many shops that sell breast prostheses employ certified fitters. Although a ready-made breast prosthetic may be right for you, custom-made breast forms are also available.
Here are the various types of breast prostheses you may want to consider.
Soon after you have breast surgery, your breast care nurse will likely give you a temporary breast prosthesis, sometimes called a “softy” or “comfie.” This soft, lightweight type of prosthesis can be sewed or pinned into a bra cup while you’re healing after surgery.
A partial breast prosthesis fills in areas where breast tissue was removed during breast-conserving surgery or a lumpectomy. A partial prosthesis is typically worn inside the bra.
A full prosthesis, or standard prosthesis, is used after a mastectomy and is sometimes paired with a postmastectomy bra that has pockets for the breast form. Some research has shown that a properly weighted breast prosthesis can help correct posture after a mastectomy. The surgery has been shown to cause forward-leaning posture disorders.
Full prostheses are available in different skin tones. Some breast forms can be positioned directly on the chest with adhesive strips. A proper fitting for a full prosthesis can help ensure that you are as comfortable as possible.
A shell prosthesis is a hollow form that goes over the breast and gives it a fuller look. Shells are sometimes used when breast shapes aren’t symmetrical after breast-conserving surgery or breast reconstruction.
A prosthetic nipple can be worn if nipples are uneven after breast surgery, with breast reconstruction, or with another type of prosthesis. A nipple prosthesis is attached with an adhesive backing or skin glue that holds it in place for several days at a time.
Before cancer treatment and breast cancer surgery, it’s important to tell your doctor about your preferences regarding reconstruction or remaining flat after a mastectomy. You can discuss breast prostheses with your oncologist and oncology health care team to better understand how your choices will affect your recovery, survivorship, and quality of life.
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Are you using a breast prosthesis? What factors helped you choose your type of prosthesis? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.