What is a prosthesis?
There are various types of post-mastectomy and lumpectomy prostheses, also called breast forms. Manufacturers make a wide selection of types, shapes, sizes and colors.
The type of prosthesis required is determined by the amount of breast tissue that is removed. A prosthesis can be worn against the skin, inside the pocket of a mastectomy bra or attached to the chest wall. Prosthetic devices are designed to look feminine while ensuring comfort.
What are the various types of prosthetic devices?
External silicone breast prosthesis
An external silicone breast prosthesis is a weighted prosthesis made of silicone, which is designed to simulate natural breast tissue. Because this type of breast prosthesis is weighted, it may help your posture, prevent shoulder drop and help problems with balance.
Nonsilicone breast prosthesis
A nonsilicone breast prosthesis is a lightweight breast form made of foam or fiberfill, which may be worn following a mastectomy. Nonsilicone breast prostheses may be worn during exercise, swimming and hot weather.
An attachable breast is a self-adhesive breast form that attaches securely to the chest wall with adhesive strips.
Post-surgical soft form in camisole
A post-surgical soft form in camisole is 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 the hips if raising the arms is difficult). Post-surgical camisole is often worn immediately following a mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation therapy or during reconstructive breast surgery.
Partial breast prosthesis, also called a shaper or shell
Partial breast prosthesis, also called shaper or shell, is a breast form made of foam, fiberfill or silicone. This type of breast prosthesis is designed to be worn over your own breast tissue to enhance the overall size of the breast and to create a fuller appearance. A partial breast prosthesis can be worn with a regular bra or a post-mastectomy bra.
What is a post-mastectomy bra?
Post-mastectomy (or simply mastectomy) bras resemble regular bras but with one important difference — they have spandex stretch pockets on the inside that help hold and keep the breast prosthesis in place. Mastectomy bras can be purchased at specialty shops or mastectomy boutiques. A certified mastectomy fitter, who is trained and experienced, can assist you in selecting and fitting the appropriate prosthesis and mastectomy bra that meets your individual needs.
Some mastectomy shops, upon request, will sew in pockets to your regular bras, swimsuits and nightgowns.
Frequently asked questions about prostheses
Q: Where do I go to be fitted for a prosthesis and a post-mastectomy bra?
A: There are many mastectomy boutiques and specialty shops that carry all types of prostheses and post-mastectomy garments. Most specialty shops employ certified fitters who are specially-trained to fit women for breast prostheses. Many mastectomy shops are owned by women who have had breast cancer themselves.
At your first fitting appointment, remember to 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 physician, oncology 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 upon your medical condition, the postoperative healing process and the type of mastectomy that was performed.
A physician's prescription for your breast prosthesis and mastectomy bras is necessary for insurance purposes.
Q: Will my insurance pay for my prosthesis and mastectomy bras?
A: There is some variance among insurance companies regarding coverage of prosthetic devices and mastectomy bras. Most insurance companies will cover two to four mastectomy bras per year, provided that you submit a prescription from your physician.
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 post-mastectomy 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. However, most breast prostheses have a two-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 there is a prescription from you doctor stating the reason for the replacement. Always check with your insurance company to determine what is covered under your plan.