Ask your doctor when it's appropriate for you to
shop for a permanent breast form. You can probably begin shopping
as soon as you're feeling strong and the swelling and tenderness
are gone from the incision. If you are planning to have breast
reconstruction, you may want a prosthesis before it's time for your
Breast forms are available in many shapes and sizes. Some
prostheses feel like plastic bags, some are rubbery, some feel very
much like skin. They may be covered with a soft fabric,
polyurethane, or a silicone envelope, and they may be filled with
foam rubber, water, air, chemical gel, polyethylene materials,
polyurethane foam, silicone gel, or ceramic particles. Like natural
breasts, prostheses vary in weight, and their consistency varies
from very soft and pliable to relatively firm. Some brands have
models specifically for the right or left side; some are made with
a modified nipple and can be worn with or without a bra.
Custom-made forms, which adhere to the chest wall and closely match
the remaining breast, are also available.
Small prostheses, sometimes called equalizers, are available for
women who have had lumpectomies or segmental mastectomies. Women
whose reconstructive surgery does not replace the nipple or whose
breast form does not have a nipple may choose a nipple prosthesis.
Extremely lightweight forms are available to wear in a nightgown or
with leisure clothes.
When selecting your prosthesis you'll also need to find a
properly fitting bra that will hold the breast form in place. You
may be able to wear the same bra you have always worn if it fits
well and does not have underwires. Special postmastectomy bras are
available-they are built up to cover a larger area of the chest and
have wider straps and pockets inside the cup to hold the
prosthesis. You can sew a pocket into your swimsuit and your
standard bras to keep the breast form in place.
Breast prostheses are sold in surgical supply stores, in
lingerie and corset shops, and in the underwear departments of
large department stores. Many stores that sell breast forms also
carry lingerie and sportswear specially designed for women who have
had mastectomies. Look in the
"Brassieres" or "Surgical Appliances." Reach to Recovery volunteers
can often provide information on types of permanent prostheses and
a list of where they are available locally.
Before you go out to try various breast forms, you should call
ahead and see if the supplier has a professional fitter to meet
with you. More than a dozen different breast forms are on the
market, and the only way to find the best one for you is to try
them on. Your breast form should feel comfortable, have a natural
contour and consistency, and remain in place when you move. It may
feel heavy at first, but you will get used to the extra weight. Ask
the fitter if the form absorbs perspiration or other chemicals from
the skin and how to clean and care for your prosthesis. Most
prostheses are guaranteed for 1 to 5 years.
Prices for breast forms range from $7 to $265. Custom-made forms
are more expensive. The expense is covered, at least partly, by
most medical insurance policies. A written prescription from your
doctor will help ensure payment. If your insurance does not cover a
prosthesis, you may be able to deduct the cost as a medical expense
on your income tax.
If you want some emotional support when you shop, ask your
partner or a good friend to go with you. Wear a form-fitting blouse
or sweater so you can see how the form will make you look.
The most important thing to do is shop around. It's worth your
time to find a prosthesis that feels comfortable and keeps you
looking your best.