Breast Reconstruction FAQs: Opting for a Prosthesis (Breast Form) After Surgery

Patient Expert

Post-Mastectomy Care: Expert Patient PJ Hamel discusses how to choose a breast form or prosthesis.

Q. I'm having a mastectomy, and although I've heard about reconstruction and implants, I just feel they're not for me. I think I'd like to wear something external. What are my options?

A. First of all, congratulations on making your decision. It's a difficult time, trying to decide what you want to do about your altered body geography-if anything-after you've had a mastectomy. In the end, it's a personal decision, and the only "should" that comes into the equation is this: Your decision should make YOU happy.

Anything external you wear-not an implant, not reconstruction-is called a prosthesis or, less formally, a breast form. Made of soft, pliable material, it fits inside a regular bra; or a special mastectomy bra, equipped with a pocket to hold the form. You can even attach some forms right to your body (they're removable, of course!)

Forms come in all shapes and sizes, just as women's breasts do. Most also come weighted, to mimic the weight of your other breast, so that the two will "hang" right, side by side. (If you're particularly small-breasted, this is a feature you won't need.) Forms are also made from different materials, most commonly fiberfill, or silicone; most forms, these days, are waterproof silicone, so you can wear them in your bathing suit. (Speaking of bathing suits, the Lands End catalog offers a nice selection of mastectomy-friendly bathing suits.)

Q. Where can I get a form?

A. Ask your doctor, his or her nurse, or one of the hospital social workers where you can get a form. They're often available at lingerie shops or medical supply houses. If you're at a large enough cancer center, they may even sell them right there. Many hospitals offer services from Reach to Recovery, an outreach group of the American Cancer Society devoted to helping breast cancer survivors deal with multiple issues, including obtaining a breast form. If you're uninsured, Y-ME, a volunteer survivor group, will send you a form for a small fee.

You may also choose to shop for a form online, or through a catalog; the American Cancer Society's tlc catalog is a good place to start. Although it's tough to judge the fit and look sight unseen, this might be your best choice, if you're uncomfortable shopping in person, or you can't find a store close by.