Breast Prostheses - What Are Your Options for Breast Forms?

Which Kind of External Breast Prosthesis is Right for You?

After a mastectomy or lumpectomy for the treatment of breast cancer, you can achieve a symmetrical appearance again by using a breast prosthesis, also called a breast form. There are several types available, in various skin tones and sizes.

Regaining Your Symmetry: Breast Prostheses

Low angle view of mature woman walking in breeze
Cultura RM Exclusive/Natalie Faye/Getty Images

After breast cancer surgery, you can take control of your appearance and boost your self-esteem. With the proper fit, nobody will know you're wearing a substitute bosom. A good breast prosthesis (also called a breast form) can help in several ways.

  • Balance and normalize your appearance
  • Protect your surgical scar
  • Prevent your bra from moving around
  • Balance weight on your shoulders

Best Advice On How To Choose and Buy a Prosthesis

Go for a professional fitting, and wear a snug-fitting blouse when you do. Breast prostheses aren't sized like bras, so you can't count on getting a form that fits by referencing your bra size. A professional prosthesis fitter can help you find a model that's the right shape and size, as well as one that is a proper weight and match for your lifestyle.

Colors, Shapes and Features of Breast Forms

Breast forms are available in different sizes and shapes.

  • Some are symmetrical, so they can be used on either side, and some are designed to be asymmetrical (used only on your right or left side).
  • Nipples or completely smooth
  • Weighted or lightweight forms
  • Forms for active sports,┬áincluding forms for swimming
  • All breast prostheses come in various skin tones, so you are sure to find a color that suits you.

• Silicone Breast Prostheses

A silicone breast prosthesis comes the closest to imitating breast tissue in weight and drape. A good prosthesis will also have some movement similar to your real breast. Although the weight of this kind of prosthesis can prevent shoulder muscle aches, it can also feel heavy or leave you feeling hot if you're outdoors a lot or participating in sports. Silicone prostheses can be custom-made so that you can be perfectly symmetrical, though they are the most expensive options.

Non-Silicone Breast Prostheses

A non-silicone breast prosthesis may be made of foam rubber, fiberfill or cotton. These are lighter in weight than silicone prostheses, and can be worn as soon as you'd like after a mastectomy. If you are physically active, this kind of prosthesis may be for you. A non-silicone breast prosthesis doesn't have the weight and drape of a real breast, but it is cooler to wear and less expensive than silicone.

• Partial Breast Prosthesis

If you feel unbalanced after a quandrantectomy (segmental mastectomy) or lumpectomy, you can use a small, partial breast prosthesis or "equalizer" to help fill out your bra on your surgery side. These are made of silicone, foam rubber, or fiberfill. A partial breast prosthesis can be tucked into your regular bra, or into the pocket of a mastectomy bra (see below).

• Attachable (Contact) Breast Prosthesis

Don't want to be caught wearing a mastectomy bra? You might want to try an attachable prosthesis. Also called a contact prosthesis, these have adhesive strips or Velcro tabs, which allow you to attach your prosthesis directly onto your body. This kind of prosthesis will move with you, and it can be worn with a regular bra. Contact prostheses come in full-breast sizes and partial breast shapes.

• Adhesive Nipples

Not everybody has nipple reconstruction after a mastectomy, so there are adhesive nipples that you can use to complete your reconstructed breast, if you choose. Latex nipples, which are held in place with fluid adhesive, are easy to remove and reusable. Silicone nipples come in different colors and don't require any "glue" to keep them in position. Either kind of nipple can be custom-made to match your own.

Next: Homemade Bosoms: Make It Yourself Solutions

Homemade Bosoms: Make It Yourself Solutions

Creative and crafty people have come up with ways to make non-commercial breast forms. Here are some sample ideas:

• Knit a Breast

Knitted Boob
Knitted Boob. Photo © Marte

Leave it to the British to come up with knitted breasts to help teach new mothers about breastfeeding. Several talented knitters have created knitted "breasts" that are gaily colored, very soft and cozy, and use either a knot or a button in place of a nipple. You can see some of these creations, designed by breast cancer survivors, at Ravelry.com and Knitty.com, where you can also find a pattern. Homemade breast forms are good options if you're on a tight budget. The pattern for the Knitted Boob in the photo can be found at the artist's website, courtesy of Marte.

• Knotted Nylons

Those of us who have no knitting skills can still consider making our own breast forms. Nylon, knee-high stockings come in various skin tones and can accommodate many fillings, such as small rounded seeds, grains or plastic bean bag pellets. Since nylons stretch, you can fill them until you create the desired size. Secure the form with a knot and a few stitches (the closure doubles as the nipple on your homemade breast form.) Keep in mind that these won't feel very realistic and may not be waterproof.

• Balloons and More

Remember playing with water-filled balloons? Kids still throw them at each other during hot weather. Water balloons, water or gelatin-filled condoms, and balloons filled with silicon caulking material have also been used to create breast forms. These kinds of breast prostheses may not last very long, as they can puncture and leak rather easily. But, they may be the least expensive option you can create.

Comfortable Clothing with a Secret Plus

• Post-Surgical Camisole

There are special camisoles that have pockets to hold your prosthesis and drainage bulbs -- great options for while you are recovering from breast surgery. These offer comfort, security (no dangling drain bulbs) and modesty. I checked out of the hospital wearing just a baggy shirt, lots of bandages, and sweat pants, and I wish I'd known about these camisoles. A pocket camisole, such as the black lace model from Tender Loving Care, will help you feel attractive as well as comfortable as you heal (Manufacturer's Website).

• Mastectomy Bras

Mastectomy bras accommodate breast forms and breasts. They have pockets for prostheses and come in nice styles and colors. These are the same size as regular bras. If you're having trouble fastening the hooks, you can get a front-closing style. Some have wide straps and comfortable sides to prevent rubbing as you heal.

The Tender Loving Care post-mastectomy camisole bra is one of the prettier options I've seen; it has a lace inset (Manufacturer's Website).
If you contact a volunteer from the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program, you may be given a "starter" mastectomy bra and a temporary breast form. Their volunteers are breast cancer survivors who are trained to give you support and information.

Product Manufacturer Websites

Here's a short list, approved by the American Cancer Society, of some websites that supply breast forms, nipples, bras, camisoles, swimwear, and more.

Continue Reading