What is a breast prosthesis?
A breast prosthesis is a synthetic breast—or part of a breast—that is worn in a bra or under clothing to replace breast tissue that has been removed via a mastectomy or partial mastectomy. It is also called a breast form. Most breast prostheses have the shape and feel of a natural breast and may weigh the same or be lighter. They are attached directly onto the skin or inserted into specially made pockets in bras.
Wearing a breast prosthesis is your choice. You can choose to wear one, or you may decide to live with the changes in your body.
Some reasons women who have had a mastectomy choose to use a breast prosthesis or have a reconstruction are:
- Replacing the weight of the lost breast – When a breast is removed, the body is no longer balanced. Lower back and neck pain may develop over time. A prosthesis or reconstruction can help with balance.
- Creating symmetry when wearing clothing – A prosthesis may help you feel and look more even on both sides (symmetrical).
- Restoring self-esteem – Re-creating a more natural appearance with a prosthesis or reconstruction may help to boost your confidence.
- Adjusting to the diagnosis and treatment – You might feel like you are taking control of your appearance.
When can I start wearing a prosthesis?
There are different types of breast prosthesis you will be able to wear at different times.
After surgery, the breast area will be tender, but you can choose to wear a light temporary breast prosthesis called a soft prosthesis (or soft form) immediately. Temporary soft prostheses tend to be made with foam, fibre fill or fleece. The soft prosthesis can be worn in a bra that has a pocket (post-surgical bra).
Cancer Council SA offer a free temporary, soft breast prosthesis to women following breast surgery. These are suitable for women that have had a partial or full mastectomy. Often this kind of prosthesis is arranged at the time of your surgery by your breast care nurse. For more information or to order a Cancer Council SA breast prosthesis, please call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to speak with one of our experienced cancer nurses.
Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) also provides a free bra and temporary soft form for women who have recently had breast cancer surgery. The bra is designed to be worn immediately after surgery. It has seams that avoid pressure on scars, and extra hooks and eyes to adjust the bra for any swelling. It can also be done up from the front or back, making fastening easier. If you would like to order a My Care Kit, speak to your breast care nurse.
Permanent breast prostheses for long-term use are mostly made from medical grade silicone gel. Silicone is a non-toxic manufactured substance that is heat-resistant and rubbery. If a prosthesis tears or punctures, the silicone can’t be absorbed by the skin.
The silicone is moulded into the natural shape of a breast or part of a breast. Most permanent prostheses are weighted to feel similar to your remaining breast, but lightweight styles are also available. You will be able to wear this kind of permanent prosthesis once you have recovered. Every woman is different so check with your surgeon or breast care nurse about how long you need to wait.
Buying a breast prosthesis
It is recommended that you see a trained fitter who can help you choose the right prosthesis, as well as a pocketed bra if necessary.
Breast prostheses are available from specialist lingerie retailers, some major department stores and mobile fitting services.
Costs and financial assistance
The cost of a breast prosthesis and bra varies depending on the type, which may influence your choice.
The cost of a new or replacement breast prosthesis can be claimed through Medicare. Women who are permanent residents of Australia, are eligible for Medicare and have had a full or partial mastectomy as a result of breast cancer can claim for a new prosthesis every two years.
Medicare’s External Breast Prostheses Reimbursement Program provides up to $400 for each new or replacement breast prosthesis. If you’ve had a bilateral mastectomy, you are eligible for reimbursement for two breast prostheses of up to $400 each. Visit servicesaustralia.gov.au and search for ‘breast prostheses’.
Private health insurance funds may also subsidise breast prostheses and pocketed bras. Rebates vary between private health funds. Some rebates only apply to members with extras cover.