One of the least-talked-about aspects of breast cancer care is the breast prosthesis that can be worn after a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Read on to learn more about breast prosthetics.
Many women who opt to not obtain reconstruction choose to wear breast prostheses to restore balance and symmetry. Balance and symmetry are important. Your breasts do more than provide milk for babies; they also preserve the curvature of your spine. A badly fitting bra, with or without a prosthesis, can lead to spinal derangement. That means that wearing a badly fitting bra (and/or prosthesis) can lead to back pain, neck pain or shoulder pain.
Breast prostheses, also known as breast forms, are typically worn inside the pocket of a specially constructed mastectomy bra, although there are some prostheses that may be worn directly against the skin, with or without an adhesive. Even women who opt to reconstruct their breasts may still need a prosthesis for balance and shaping, typically due to weight changes that will not affect the reconstructed breast. Reconstruction does not necessarily mean the end of special breast care needs.
Breast forms are commonly made of silicone, which mimics the feel, weight and density of breast tissue. There are several kinds of silicone, some are lighter than others. The most common silicone is lightweight silicone, which still has a bit of weight to provide balance without feeling too heavy. There are a variety of shapes and sizes to meet individual needs. Some forms, like the one pictured, are adjustable in that you can add to the fullness of the breast form by adding medical stuffing. It is not a perfect system, but in the vast majority of cases, the silicone breast prosthesis is more than adequate to restore balance and symmetry.
There are also some non-silicone forms, typically made of foam, called “leisure forms.” Some of these are weighted to add balance.
Under the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998, insurance companies are required to provide coverage for mastectomy products. This does not necessarily mean that you can have whatever you want whenever you want it; there are limitations on how many items you can have and how much reimbursement can be obtained. And in some cases, payment for the full price of the product will have to be obtained up front (typically when buying an ‘upgraded’ product – more on this another time).
There are a few women who are good candidates for a custom breast prosthesis, where the prosthetist makes a mold of the chest in order to fashion a breast prosthesis. But for most insurance plans, including Medicare, a custom breast prosthesis is not a covered service.
One thing to keep in mind is that all this needs to be discussed with your doctor. Consult your physician or their nurse for more information. You will need a prescription from your doctor to obtain mastectomy prostheses, mastectomy bras, post-surgical camisoles and silicone nipple prostheses. In Florida and in many states, you will need a new prescription every year in order to replenish your supplies.
It is a whole new world after having a mastectomy. Fortunately, there are people and companies who care and provide products to meet these very special needs.