1. Getting your breast prosthesis (artificial breast form)
Your breast care nurse will usually arrange a fitting appointment for you if you want to have a permanent . If you’re not given an appointment, ask your breast care nurse about this.
Your appointment will often be at your local hospital. The breast care nurse may do the fitting, or it may be done by another trained fitter, such as a surgical appliance officer or a representative from a prosthesis company.
Some women find it helpful to look at the selection of prostheses before their appointment, or even before their operation if possible, so they have an idea of what to expect. You can discuss this with your breast care nurse.
You’ll usually be given the prosthesis at your fitting appointment or very soon afterwards. However, if you choose or need a style that is not in stock, you may have to wait longer.
Although it’s not advisable to buy a prosthesis without trying it first, they are also available from specialist suppliers.
2. Will I have to pay for my prosthesis?
NHS patients do not have to pay for their prosthesis. However, not all prostheses styles are available on the NHS.
If you are a private patient, check to see if your private health scheme covers the cost of your prosthesis. If you have to pay for your prosthesis you won’t have to pay the VAT on it and the fitter will ask you to sign a VAT exemption form stating that you’ve had breast surgery. Alternatively, you may be able to have a prosthesis from the NHS in the same way that NHS patients can apply for a replacement.
3. The prosthesis fitting
Bras after surgery for breast cancer
What to take with you
It’s important to take a well-fitting bra to your appointment so you and the fitter can see how the prosthesis will sit in your bra.
It’s useful to wear a plain, light-coloured top. This makes it easier to choose a prosthesis that gives you a good shape. You might prefer to wear a top that you can put on and take off quickly and easily. Or you may like to take a variety of tops with different necklines so you can see how it might work with different clothes.
It’s important to talk about the styles of clothing you might want to wear your prosthesis with and if you’re hoping to wear it for anything active. You may want to look at our webpage on clothing and swimwear.
At the fitting
The fitter will explain what will happen during the fitting and check you have a suitable bra.
At your appointment you should be given:
- A selection of sizes and styles of prostheses
- A large mirror and good light so you can see what the prosthesis looks like in your bra and with clothing over it. If you would prefer not to face the mirror, let your fitter know
- Enough time for you to make your choice
Your prosthesis should feel comfortable, give you a good shape and be a reasonable match to your skin tone.
4. Looking after your prosthesis
The prosthesis fitter or nurse will give you information on how to care for your prosthesis. If you follow the advice on looking after your prosthesis it may last for several years.
Generally, you should look after a silicone breast prosthesis as you would your own skin. Wash it daily in warm soapy water and dry it with a towel.
If you have a stick-on prosthesis, you may need to use specific products to keep the prosthesis clean. Your prosthesis supplier can tell you more about these.
When you are not using a silicone prosthesis, store it in the shaped unit inside the box it came in.
Take care not to catch the prosthesis with sharp objects such as rings or pins as these may damage it, causing the silicone to leak. If a silicone prosthesis gets damaged, you can usually seal the tear temporarily with a sticking plaster.
5. Replacing a prosthesis
A prosthesis will have a guarantee but the length of this can vary. Most prostheses will last longer than the period of the guarantee.
You can request a replacement prosthesis on the NHS when it is worn out. You can also ask for a reassessment if your prosthesis is no longer a good fit, even if it’s still in good condition. This might happen if your weight or body shape changes or if your lifestyle changes (for example, if you become more active).
The process for getting a replacement prosthesis will depend on what happens in your local area and whether you have been discharged from the breast clinic. You can contact your breast clinic to arrange a prosthesis reassessment and fitting. Alternatively, you can contact your GP about a referral to the breast clinic or a prosthesis fitter.
New prosthesis styles are being developed all the time, so when you need a replacement it’s a good idea to have a reassessment rather than directly replacing the one you already have.
If your prosthesis is damaged due to a manufacturing fault, you should be refitted with a new one free if you’re an NHS patient. If it’s damaged because you have punctured it or not followed the care instructions, you may be charged for replacing it.
If you had your surgery privately, ask your insurance company if they cover the cost of future replacement prostheses. If they don’t, you can ask your GP to refer you to an NHS breast clinic or prosthesis fitter to be fitted with a free replacement.
6. Air travel with a prosthesis
Types of breast prosthesis
If you’re going on a flight and choose to pack your silicone prosthesis in your luggage, it’s not unusual for some small air bubbles to appear in the back of your prosthesis. This is because the luggage hold is not pressurised. It will only happen if your prosthesis has a clear back.
These small bubbles will disappear shortly after you have landed and will cause no harm to your prosthesis.
If you have a lightweight prosthesis, the bubbles will appear as black dots. Again, these cause no harm and will disappear soon after you land.
You can travel with your prosthesis in your hand luggage if you prefer, the liquid or gel inside the prosthesis shouldn’t be an issue in terms of security, as a prosthesis is classed as medical equipment.
However, you do not have to remove your prosthesis when going through security if you prefer to wear it.
Airport security body scanning
People are randomly picked for a body scan or may be scanned if the metal detectors are activated. External breast prostheses will show up on body scanners.
You may be worried about what this means for your privacy and feel anxious at the idea of someone noticing your prosthesis.
If selected for a scan you might want to tell the security staff that you are wearing a breast prosthesis before being scanned. It may also be helpful for you to carry a letter from your GP or treatment team, confirming this.
The scan will take place in a security area with a member of airport staff present. It only takes a few seconds.
The images are viewed remotely and cannot be seen by the public. You can ask for a female screener (the security officer analysing the images).
The screener won’t see you or be able to recognise you. The images don’t show facial features, hair or skin tone, and are deleted immediately after analysis.