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Breasts after mastectomy

What is a breast prosthesis?

A breast prosthesis (plural: prostheses) is a synthetic breast or part of a breast that is worn in a bra or under clothing to replace all or part of your breast. It is also called a breast form.

A prosthesis is worn after you have had surgery to remove the whole breast (mastectomy) or part of the breast (breast conserving surgery or lumpectomy). 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, activewear and sleepwear.

What is a breast reconstruction?

A breast reconstruction is an operation to make a new breast shape. The reconstructed breast is also called a breast mound. You may have a breast   reconstruction when you have a mastectomy or at a later time. If the nipple was removed during the mastectomy, one can be created with surgery or tattooing. Otherwise, stick-on nipples can be used.

The aim of a breast reconstruction is to make a breast that looks as similar to your original breast shape or other breast as possible, but the reconstructed breast will not feel or look exactly the same. There are two main types:

  • implant reconstruction, using a sac filled with either silicone gel or saline
  • flap reconstruction, using skin, muscle and fat from another part of your body

Breast reconstruction in men and gender diverse people

All people have breast tissue, can develop breast cancer and may have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy.

Some of the information may be relevant to men and gender diverse people who are considering having a breast reconstruction. For information specific to your situation, speak to your doctor.

Men with breast cancer can find useful resources on Cancer Australia’s website. Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) also has helpful information and personal stories about men with breast cancer.

Do I need to have a prosthesis or a reconstruction?

It is your choice whether or not you wear a prosthesis or have a reconstruction after surgery. Reactions to the loss of a breast or breasts vary from woman to woman. Only you can choose what feels right. You do not need to make a decision immediately. Unless you are considering having a reconstruction at the same
time as the mastectomy, there is no time limit on when you must decide. See your doctor as many times as you want before making a decision. Take the time you need to consider your options.

It is estimated that around one in five women in Australia has a breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, but this number is increasing. If you don’t have a reconstruction you can choose to wear a prosthesis or you may decide to do neither and 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 outlined below.

Replacing the weight of the lost breast – When a breast is removed, the body is no longer balanced. This can cause a slight curving of the spine and a drop of the shoulder on the affected side. Lower back and neck pain may develop over time. Issues with balance after having a mastectomy can affect women of any breast size. A prosthesis or reconstruction can help with balance.

Creating symmetry when wearing clothing – Most women don’t have identical breasts – the muscle and tissue on each side of the body are different. After a mastectomy, these differences are usually more noticeable. A prosthesis or reconstruction 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 – including sexual confidence – about the way your body looks after a mastectomy.

Adjusting to the diagnosis and treatment – Using a prosthesis or having a reconstruction may help you cope better with the experience of cancer. You might feel like you are taking control of your appearance.

Featured resource

Breast Prostheses and Reconstruction

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed July 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Elisabeth Elder, Specialist Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and Clinical Associate Professor, The University of Sydney, NSW; Dragana Ceprnja, Senior Physiotherapist and Health Professional Educator, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Jan Davies, Consumer; Rosemerry Hodgkin, Consumer; Gillian Horton, Owner and Director, Colleen’s Lingerie and Swimwear, ACT; Ashleigh Mondolo, Clinical Nurse Consultant Breast Care Nurse, Mater Private Hospital South Brisbane, QLD; Dr Jane O’Brien, Specialist Oncoplastic Breast Cancer Surgeon, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, VIC; Moira Waters, Breast Care Nurse, Breast Cancer Care WA; Sharon Woolridge, Consumer; Rebecca Yeoh, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland. We are grateful to Amoena Australia Pty Ltd for supplying the breast form images on pages 14–16. The photographs on pages 35, 47 and 51 have been reproduced with permission from Breast Cancer: Taking Control, © Boycare Publishing 2010, and the image on page 46 has been reproduced with permission from Dr Pouria Moradi, NSW.

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