After a mastectomy, wearing a prosthesis can help you both physically and mentally. Also known as a breast form, a prosthesis can help to restore the shape of the breast, giving a more natural and even outline, helping to align the shoulders and neck, and making you feel more confident.
Here we take a look at the facts surrounding choosing and wearing breast forms, what to wear after mastectomy, and also debunk some common myths.
What are artificial breasts for cancer patients?
If you’ve had a mastectomy (breast removal) for cancer and haven’t had breast reconstruction, a prosthesis or breast form can be used to take the shape of the breast, or part of the breast, that’s been removed.
An artificial breast can help to replicate the look and feel of your breast. Breast forms and partial breast forms are normally made from soft moulded silicone or lightweight foam and can either be attached directly to your skin (a 'contact prosthesis') or inserted into the pocket of a mastectomy bra.
Breast forms come in a range of shapes, including asymmetrical forms, which are normally oval or triangular in shape; teardrop forms, which are suitable where the breast is fullest in the lower and outer area; and asymmetrical forms, which can be extended sideways or upwards.
Some breast forms also come with a nipple outline. Alternatively, some women choose to wear a nipple prosthesis, which is made of soft silicone and can be added to a breast form or worn directly on the skin using self-adhesive or a specially designed skin glue.
What size breast forms should you get?
Breast forms are available in a range of different sizes and weights. It’s important to choose something that feels natural and comfortable, and suits your individual body shape and the kind of clothes you want to wear.
If you’ve had one breast removed, a standard breast form can be used to match the size and weight of your natural breast. This will help ensure that your chest outline is even and that you feel balanced. For larger sizes you may prefer a slightly lighter weight option.
Where part of the breast has been removed, a partial or shaped prosthesis will help to fill the outline of the breast for a more natural look. Meanwhile, a silicone shell prosthesis can be used where one breast is smaller than the other.
Where both breasts have been removed (a double mastectomy), you can wear whatever feels most comfortable for you.
If you live an active lifestyle, or have lymphoedema, you may prefer to choose a lighter weight breast form. Some women also prefer to wear a lightweight form in bed.
Many healthcare professionals advise wearing a ‘softie’ or ultra gentle breast form immediately after surgery. The Live Better With community recommend the Anita EquiLight, which is made from quick-drying mouldable soft foam. A lightweight breast form can also be more comfortable in warm weather.
What should you wear after a mastectomy?
After a mastectomy it’s advisable to choose clothes that are comfortable and easy to take on and off, and avoid anything with tight sleeves or too many buttons or fastenings.
Wearing breathable clothes made from natural materials such as cotton or bamboo can help keep you cool and avoid irritating sensitive skin. Loose tops or light, flowing dresses are comfy and can also help to disguise post-surgery drains.
While you’re recovering from surgery, a pair of soft bamboo pyjamas or a wrap dress or robe which fastens at the front will help you to rest in comfort. The Brobe offers a stylish and practical bra and robe combination, complete with pockets for holding prostheses in place.
Once you’ve sufficiently recovered from surgery, mastectomy bras are soft, seam-free and non-wired for maximum comfort and to avoid causing friction or irritation. Nowadays, there’s a wide range of mastectomy bras which are specially designed to hold a breast form. Take the Amoena Non-Wired Soft Bra, which is comfortable and supportive and has integral pockets to ensure that your prosthesis stays put. Some mastectomy bras also feature extra detailing, such as pretty lace, for a touch of glamour.
Meanwhile, if you’re ready to get active try our recommended range of mastectomy swimwear, which is cut slightly higher under the arm and includes pockets for breast forms; or a comfortable and breathable mastectomy sports bra.
And if you’re feeling self-conscious about your neckline, try wearing a light cami top underneath for extra security, or using a draped scarf or some chunky jewellery.
You can see the Live Better With range of mastectomy clothing here.
How to wear breast forms
A breast form offers a simple, no-fuss option for replicating the shape and feel of a breast following mastectomy. A full or partial silicone breast form can slip inside the pocket of a specially designed mastectomy bra or camisole. Simply lay the bra out with the inside facing you, gently insert the prosthesis into the pocket on the inside of the bra, and allow it to expand.
Meanwhile, a contact or stick-on prosthesis uses adhesive to attach to the chest wall. This may come in the form of adhesive patches, or the adhesive may be built in to the breast form.
Some women find that a contact prosthesis feels more natural and requires less support, and it can also offer more flexibility when choosing clothes, including strapless or tight-fitting tops or dresses. If you’re wearing a stick-on prosthesis, you may be able to go without a bra if you choose clothing that has good in-built support.
It’s advisable to give it some time after surgery before wearing an adhesive prosthesis, to give your skin time to heal.
Common misconceptions about breast forms & prostheses
- 'One size fits all' - these days, when it comes to choosing a breast form or prosthetic nipples there are plenty of options, so you can find something which suits your needs and body shape and makes you feel comfortable and confident
- 'Breast forms are purely cosmetic'- as well as giving you a more natural line, breast forms also help with posture, balance and the correct alignment of your shoulders, neck and spine. They can also prevent your bra from sliding upwards
- 'Smaller women don’t need breast forms' - regardless of size, breast forms help with posture and alignment, and give a more natural outline, together with a much-needed confidence boost.