A breast prosthesis is an artificial breast designed to replicate the size, shape, feel, and weight of a person’s breasts following a partial, full, or double mastectomy.
Manufacturers often use a silicone gel or similar material that is soft and provides a similar feel to natural breasts. The prostheses are typically designed to fit inside a person’s bra cup.
Breast prostheses may be an option for people who do not want reconstructive surgery, or want a more affordable way to maintain the same look as before their mastectomy.
This article reviews the types, cost, and other information about breast prostheses.
The purpose of a breast prosthesis is to replicate part, or all, of the breast following a mastectomy.
According to the American Cancer Society, people may opt for a breast prosthesis because:
- the cost of reconstruction surgery may be too high
- a person may not want any additional surgery following their treatment
- there may be other health concerns that make reconstruction surgery not an option
- the person may want to return to their daily life as quickly as possible following treatment
There are several different types of breast prostheses made from different materials.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, different types of breast prostheses include:
|External silicone||Silicone prostheses are made of soft silicone. This makes them heavier, but also provides a more natural feel. Due to their weight, these can help with a person’s posture and prevent their shoulder from dropping.|
|Non-silicone||These use foam or fiberfill. This makes them lighter and a good option for those who have just undergone surgery. They are also a good option for wearing under bathing suit tops because they can get wet with chlorinated or salt water.|
|Camisole soft form for post-surgery||These inserts fit in a camisole, are lightweight, and provide form immediately following surgery.|
|Attachable||These are self-adhesive. A person can attach them to the chest wall.|
|Partial breast, otherwise known as shaper or shell||These can be made from silicone, fiberfill, or foam. They are a cup or shell designed to fit over the top of any existing breast tissue to enlarge and shape the breast’s outline.|
A person may prefer to order a custom-made prosthesis. A manufacturer will create a breast that fits the person’s natural curves and matches their skin tone, size, and shape.
A manufacturer typically makes prostheses that attach to either the skin or the clothing. Some clothing manufacturers also sell tops with custom pockets to fit prostheses, which may make wearing ones that attach to clothing easier.
Many breast prostheses have backings that consist of the same material as the prosthesis itself. Some may have fabric or a panel of gel.
A person can also choose to get a prosthetic nipple. These are made of silicone and a person can wear them on a prosthesis or a reconstructed breast. They come in different sizes and skin colors. Some hospitals may custom make them to match a person’s other nipple.
Prosthetic nipples are either self-adhesive or come with a special glue that is safe to use on the skin. This glue can hold the nipple in place for several days.
An alternative includes using a nipple cover to make the nipple on the other breast less obvious.
The style of prosthesis will vary based on the person’s needs and preferences.
A person typically can choose between options such as:
- Full: People may use these after a full mastectomy. This style replaces one or both breasts.
- Partial: A person uses these after a partial mastectomy. This style fits in the removed area of the breast to fill in the area.
- Shell: A person places these over the existing breast tissue, it provides a natural look following a partial mastectomy
- Stick-on or adhesive: This style uses an adhesive to stick to the skin on the chest wall following a full mastectomy
There are three main choices for the shape of the prosthesis. The shapes include:
- Symmetrical: People may also refer to these as pear- or tear-shaped. They comes as a pair and a person can place these on either side of the breast to fill out their bra, or straight to create fullness and cleavage.
- Asymmetrical: These fit either the left or right breast.
- Custom: A person can work with a manufacturer directly to create a breast shape, size, and color that best matches their body. A laser scan or plaster cast ensure that the prosthesis fits snugly against the body.
According to BreastCancer.org, a person can order or purchase a prosthesis that matches or comes close to their skin tone. Custom-made prostheses consist of latex or silicone.
A person interested in matching their exact skin tone may have the best luck with a custom-made prosthesis. Non-custom sets can come in colors that are close but may not exactly match a person’s skin tone.
However, custom-made prostheses are more expensive and many insurance companies do not cover the cost.
The choice of which prosthesis to use is largely personal.
A person may consider:
- The feel: Those interested in a more natural feel can choose silicone options that best match their breast’s natural weight and size.
- Function: Polyfill or foam versions may work best for activities such as swimming.
- The amount of breast removed: Shells may work best for partial mastectomies, while symmetrical versions may work better for full mastectomies.
- Cost: Insurance may cover some or all of the cost, but it likely will not cover the cost of custom sets.
- The size and shape: Prostheses come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so a person can try several different ones to see which works best for them.
A person can purchase a breast prosthesis from several different locations.
Some options include:
- surgical supply store
- through a private service
- custom lingerie shop
A person may also be able to shop online for options. However, they should be careful to make sure the prosthesis will match their needs.
They should also make sure their insurance will cover the cost of an online or in-person purchase before buying.
Once their scar area has healed, a person can get fitted for a permanent silicone prosthesis.
A person should wait to schedule a fitting for a breast prosthesis until their doctor approves it.
This can take 6–8 weeks following surgery, though this time may vary.
In the meantime, a nurse may provide a temporary breast prosthesis after surgery. This is a soft, fabric-covered prosthesis that others may refer to as a “softie” or “comfie.”
Preparing for the fitting
Before the fitting, a person should ensure that they have a bra that fits well.
BreastCancer.org recommends a person bring several different styles of tops to the appointment to see how the prosthesis will fit under each. A plain, light-colored top can help a person see how well the prosthesis fits.
During the fitting
The fitter will explain what will happen and ensure that the person has a bra that fits well.
During a fitting, the specialist will help a person find the best size, shape, weight, and feel of a prosthesis for them.
There should be:
- a variety of styles and sizes of prosthesis to choose from
- a large mirror and good lighting
- plenty of time to make their choice
A person should review their desires and lifestyle needs with their fitter. This can help them make informed decisions about the options the person should try.
Maintenance and care vary based on the material used for the prosthesis.
In general, silicone requires the most care and consideration. A person must hand wash silicone prostheses and otherwise avoid getting them wet or wearing them while swimming or in a hot tub. These conditions can cause the silicone to break down and become thinner and stickier.
Non-silicone models require less maintenance. A person can often wear them in a pool or hot tub. A person may also be able to wash them in a washing machine.
A person should follow care instructions from their fitter, healthcare professional, or the instructions found on the packaging to ensure the product lasts as long as possible.
Prostheses often last between 2–5 years. After this time, they may need replacing.
A person can typically reorder the same or similar set from the location where they originally purchased the prosthesis. If they are not satisfied with the original location, they can look into using other retailers.
Manufacturers may offer warranties for their products. A person may qualify for a replacement set if the original one breaks down during the life of the warranty.
According to BreastCancer.org, a person can expect to pay between $100 and $500 for high-quality prosthesis.
People with insurance may get reimbursement for their prosthesis. It is important for a person to check with their provider before making a purchase to determine if they will cover some or all of the cost.
An insurance company will often cover new prostheses every 1–2 years and 2–4 mastectomy bras each year.
Breastcancer.org also notes that requesting prostheses will not affect coverage for reconstructive surgery if a person decides to do this later on.
What if the prosthesis no longer fits?
Insurance coverage varies. The most likely scenario for someone looking to have new prostheses covered by insurance is that person will need to wait until their plan covers the cost again, which typically is once every 1–2 years.
However, a person can check with their provider to see if their insurance policy will cover the cost of the replacement if their body size changes and the initial prosthesis no longer fit.
Breast prostheses are designed to help a person retain their natural shape following a mastectomy.
The choice to get prostheses is a personal decision, but for those who do want them, there are several options. A person can choose what type, feel, and weight work best for them and their overall needs.
Most insurance plans and Medicare cover at least most of the cost of prostheses, though a person should check with their plan to make sure their plan covers the ones they want.