External breast prostheses

Surgery offers one way forward after a mastectomy, but it isn’t for everyone. A prosthesis is the fastest way to fill the space where your breast was. You can slip it into your bra or swimsuit and look as you did before surgery – this is a big relief for many women, especially after losing a breast and making so many major decisions.

Breast prostheses come in many shapes, sizes, and materials: silicone gel, foam, or fiberfill interior. Some prostheses are weighted and some are not. Many prostheses slip into a pocket in a specially designed bra or camisole. Others come with adhesive patches that attach to the upper edge of your breast area, allowing you to go braless if you like. Others use magnets: a magnet attaches to your skin with an adhesive patch and the other magnet is on the back of the prosthesis. The breast form snaps onto the magnet on your chest to stay in place. Prostheses that stay in place with adhesive or magnets don’t require special lingerie. The adhesive patches last about a week and then you replace them.

There are two main types of breast prostheses and each may be right for you at different times and for different reasons:

A lightweight model (polyfill or foam)

These are recommended when you’re recovering from surgery, because it’s most comfortable. It also feels good during warm weather and swimming and can be machine-washed. Most lightweight breast prostheses can be worn in chlorinated or salt water.

A silicone prosthesis

These look more realistic and feel more natural for everyday wear. If you prefer to wear a prosthesis during sex, many women choose silicone prostheses because they have the most natural feel for their partner. Two types of silicone prostheses are available:

Asymmetrical

Designed only for the left side or only for the right side

Symmetrical or pear-shaped

These work on either side and can be worn sideways to fill out the side of your bra, or straight up for center fullness and cleavage

Silicone prostheses may seem heavy compared to the foamed-filled models, especially for women with large breasts. But the balanced weight silicone provides helps keep your shoulders even and your posture straight. Salt water, pool water, and hot tubs may damage the outer shell of most silicone products, making it sticky (and more likely to collect dirt) and thinner (making it more likely to rupture and leak). Check with the manufacturer to be sure..

You can buy a breast prosthesis at surgical supply stores, pharmacies, custom lingerie shops (which usually have trained fitters), or a private service that comes to your home. You may want to try out samples under different clothes – from sweaters and t-shirts to suits and slinky formal wear – to make sure it’s right for all aspects of your lifestyle. Make sure to ask your fitter the best way to wear the prosthesis based on your unique situation, body type, clothing, and activities.

Once your chest area is fully healed, you need to make sure you have a well-fitting, supportive bra before you can be successfully fitted for your permanent prosthesis. This is so that your prosthesis matches the shape and size of your natural breast, and is held comfortably and securely in place.

You may choose to buy a mastectomy bra that has a built in pocket for a prosthesis. Alternatively, you can wear a suitable style purchased from a department store or specialized lingerie shop.

CUSTOM-MADE OPTIONS

Some specialty shops sell custom-made breast prostheses, individually constructed and cast to match the natural contours and color of your body and your other breast. These are usually made from silicone or latex and are significantly more expensive than a breast prosthesis that isn’t custom-made.

PROS AND CONS OF BREAST PROSTHESES

Some women find external breast prostheses comfortable and are happy with how their breast shape looks. Smaller-breasted women in particular may find external breast prostheses comfortable. Others find them uncomfortable, cumbersome and impractical. Prostheses are often described as hot, sometimes heavy, and can sometimes irritate the skin. Self-adhesive prostheses also require regular cleaning. Some women report difficulty with their prostheses during physical activity and sports. Of particular concern to some women is the fear that the prostheses may fall out of clothing.