Breast Prostheses After Mastectomy or Lumpectomy

This content has been reviewed and approved by

William J. Gradishar, MD FACP
Director, Breast Medical Oncology, Professor of Medicine
Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

What is a prosthesis?

If you have had a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, you can get various types of prostheses. They are also called breast forms. Prostheses aim to restore the size and shape your breast had before surgery. They come in many types, shapes, sizes, and colors.

The type of prosthesis you need depends on how much breast tissue was removed. Prostheses can be worn against your skin, inside the pocket of a mastectomy bra, or attached to your chest wall. They are designed to look feminine while also being comfortable.

What are the various types of prosthetic devices?

External silicone breast prosthesis - A weighted prosthesis made of silicone. It is designed to simulate natural breast tissue. Because this type of breast prosthesis is weighted, it may help your posture, and prevent shoulder drop and problems with balance.

Nonsilicone breast prosthesis - A lightweight breast form made of foam or fiberfill. It may be worn after a mastectomy. You can wear these prostheses during exercise, swimming, and hot weather.

Attachable breast - A self-adhesive breast form that attaches securely to your chest wall with adhesive strips.

Postsurgical soft form in camisole - A lightweight, removable breast form that fits into a camisole garment (a soft, stretchy garment with lace elastic straps that can be pulled up over your hips if raising your arms is hard). A postsurgical camisole is often worn immediately after a mastectomy, a lumpectomy, or radiation therapy, or during reconstruction breast surgery.

Partial breast prosthesis (also called a shaper or shell) - A breast form made of foam, fiberfill, or silicone. This type of breast prosthesis is worn over your own breast tissue to enhance the overall size of your breast and to create a fuller appearance. A partial breast prosthesis can be worn with a regular bra or a mastectomy bra.

What is a mastectomy bra?

A mastectomy (or postmastectomy) bra resembles regular bras. But there is one important difference—they have spandex stretch pockets on the inside that help hold and keep your breast prosthesis in place. You can buy mastectomy bras at specialty shops or mastectomy boutiques. A certified mastectomy fitter, who is trained and experienced, can assist you in selecting and fitting a prosthesis and mastectomy bra that are right for you. Some mastectomy shops, on request, will sew pockets into your regular bras, swimsuits, and nightgowns.

Frequently Asked Questions About Prostheses

Q: Where do I go to be fitted for a prosthesis and a mastectomy bra? 

A: There are many mastectomy boutiques and specialty shops that carry all types of prostheses and mastectomy garments. Most specialty shops employ certified fitters who are specially trained to fit women for breast prostheses. Many mastectomy shop owners are women who have had breast cancer.

At your first fitting appointment, wear a garment that fits properly (possibly a knit top), so that you can see the shape of your breast when trying on your new prosthesis. Your doctor, cancer nurse, local American Cancer Society Reach For Recovery Program, or other breast cancer organization can recommend specialty shops and boutiques in your area that carry prosthetic devices and garments.

Q: How soon can I be fitted for a breast prosthesis after a mastectomy? 

A: After surgery, your surgeon will recommend the appropriate time for you to start wearing a prosthesis. This will depend on your health, the postoperative healing process, and the type of mastectomy you had. You will need a doctor's prescription for your breast prosthesis and mastectomy bras for insurance purposes.

Q: Will my insurance pay for my prosthesis and mastectomy bras? 

A: Insurance companies vary regarding whether they cover prosthetic devices and mastectomy bras. Medicare, and some other insurance plans, will pay for one breast prosthesis per year. Most insurance companies will cover two to four mastectomy bras per year, provided that you submit a prescription from your doctor.

During the month of October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many mastectomy shops have sales on mastectomy bras and other items. Always check with your insurance company to determine which postmastectomy products are covered under your plan. Mastectomy bathing suits are generally not covered by insurance companies.

Q: Will people be able to tell that I am wearing a prosthesis? 

A: No. With a proper fit, no one will be able to tell you are wearing a prosthesis.

Q: How long does a breast prosthesis last? 

A: Always check first, as this will vary with the type of breast prosthesis and by the manufacturer. But most breast prostheses have a 2-year warranty.

Q: What happens if my body changes in size and my prosthesis no longer fits properly? Can I get a replacement, and is it covered by my insurance? 

A: Most insurance companies will cover breast prosthesis replacements for this reason, provided you have a prescription from your doctor stating the reason for the replacement. Always check with your insurance company to determine what is covered under your plan.

This content was last reviewed August 15, 2010 by Dr. Reshma L. Mahtani.
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