1. What is a breast prosthesis (artificial breast form)?
A breast prosthesis is an artificial breast form that replaces the shape of all or part of the breast that has been removed.
‘Prostheses’ is the word for more than one prosthesis.
2. Temporary breast prosthesis
After breast surgery, your breast care nurse or one of the ward nurses will usually give you a fabric-covered temporary prosthesis, often called a ‘softie’ or ‘cumfie/comfie’, to wear during this time.
The softie may ride up because it’s so light. It may look better and feel more secure if you remove some of the stuffing (to help match to the size of the other breast if you have had a single mastectomy) and either stitch it to the bottom of your bra cup or keep it in place with a safety pin.
Once your wound is healed and any swelling has gone down (usually within 6 to 8 weeks) you can be fitted for a permanent prosthesis if you choose.
3. Permanent breast prosthesis
A permanent breast prosthesis fits in a bra cup with or without a bra pocket.
Most breast prostheses are made from soft silicone gel (which is anti-allergenic), encased in a thin film. They’re moulded to resemble the natural shape of a woman’s breast, or part of a breast. The outer surface feels soft and smooth and may include a nipple outline.
There are also non-silicone breast forms, but these may not be available on the NHS. Talk to you fitter about the other breast form options.
Sometimes people wear their temporary prosthesis instead of a permanent prosthesis.
Suppliers: bras, prostheses, clothes and swimwear
Although it might be difficult to achieve an exact match, many prostheses are available in different skin tones. Having a prosthesis that is as close to your skin tone as possible may help you feel more comfortable and confident.
Some companies make prostheses to order or can add colour to existing products. These specially made prostheses may take longer to supply and may not be available in all hospitals.
Some women make or buy a cover for their prosthesis that is a closer match to their own skin.
Talk to your breast care nurse or fitter about finding a prosthesis that works with your skin tone.
4. Prosthesis styles
Prostheses come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and skin tones. Most are made from materials that are designed to move, feel and weigh as similar to a natural breast as possible.
It’s important your prosthesis suits your lifestyle as much as possible. You may want to consider the different clothing styles you want to wear your prosthesis with. Our clothing and swimwear page may give you some ideas.
Full or standard prosthesis
A full prosthesis is designed to go straight against the chest where all breast tissue has been removed. It’s matched in size, shape and skin tone to your other breast.
If you have had both breasts removed, you can select the size you feel most comfortable with.
Partial or shaped prosthesis
A partial prosthesis is for women who have had part of their breast removed.
It’s worn inside a bra and is shaped to fill out the breast outline. It’s made of the same silicone material as most full prostheses.
This is a type of partial prosthesis that may be used if your breasts are different in size from each other.
It’s a soft ‘shell’ of silicone that fits over your smaller breast so that it matches the larger one.
This type of prosthesis can also be useful:
- For women who have had breast reconstruction surgery where symmetry has not been achieved
- If an implant is in the process of being expanded (this is a type of breast reconstruction which happens over time, so the breast size will gradually increase until the size of the breast implant is similar to that of the remaining breast)
- If you are waiting for a breast reduction to achieve symmetry
A stick-on prosthesis (full or partial) sticks directly onto the skin.
Most have a sticky surface as part of the prosthesis itself. They can be worn either by attaching it directly to the chest or as a regular prosthesis with a protective backing over the stick-on part.
These can suit women who are more physically active or who want to wear a less supportive bra, as not all of the weight is taken by the bra.
They can also be worn with strapless dresses and tops if the clothing is supportive enough
Most women will be advised not to wear a stick-on prosthesis for 6–12 months after surgery or during (and sometimes after) as it may damage the skin.
Swim prostheses are made especially for use when swimming and don’t get damaged by salt water or chlorine. Some swim prostheses are clear.
5. Prosthesis shapes
A symmetrical form is usually an oval or triangular shape that can be worn on either the left or right side.
The teardrop shape is often more suitable for women whose breasts are fuller in the lower and outer area and less full above the nipple. These can also be worn on either the right or left side.
These are generally more suitable for women who have had more tissue removed, as they have extensions to fit under the arm or upper chest. However, they can also be used by women who have not had extensive surgery. They are specifically designed for either the left or right side.
This technique uses a 3D scanner to produce a computerised 3D image of the chest area, which can then be used to create a customised prosthesis shape. It is made to give a good fit to the chest, which stops the prosthesis moving, and is matched to your skin tone. Made-to-measure breast prostheses are not currently available on the NHS.
This prosthesis comes with a pump so it can be inflated to the required size. It may not be available in all hospitals.
6. Breast prosthesis weights and materials
Silicone prostheses come in different weights.
The most suitable weight will depend on how heavy your other breast is. If you have had both breasts removed, you can choose the weight you feel most comfortable with.
If you’ve had a single mastectomy, a full-weight prosthesis may make you feel more balanced as it matches the weight of your other breast. However, if you need a large size, a lighter-weight version might be more comfortable.
If a breast prosthesis is too light it can move around or ride up so it’s not level with the other breast. If this happens discuss it with the person who fitted your prosthesis as you may need to be reassessed or get advice about wearing a different type of bra.
Most prostheses are made from silicone, which is a soft gel-like substance.
Foam prostheses are also available. A foam prosthesis is lighter and cooler. It may be more suitable if you’re particularly active or you may find this style more comfortable in warmer weather.
Alternatively, some prostheses are filled with polypropylene beads. These mould into the shape of the bra and, as air is able to circulate, they are also cooler.
There are also breast forms that don’t try to closely resemble a natural breast, for women who are looking for an alternative to a traditional soft silicone prosthesis.
Backings and covers
The backing of most prostheses is made of the same material as the front. Some may have a different backing, such as fabric or a soft panel of gel, designed to make them more comfortable. Backings that can be moulded to fit an uneven chest wall are also available. Some prostheses have backings that allow more air flow and may be cooler.
You can use a soft fabric cover to fit over the silicone surface, although the prosthesis may not sit as well. This can prevent a rash or skin reaction developing, which might happen if you get hot and sweat behind your prosthesis.
You could also use a bra pocket to prevent this.
7. Prosthetic nipples
Prosthetic (artificial) nipples are made of soft silicone that can be worn on a reconstructed breast or prosthesis. They are either self-sticking or come with special skin glue that can hold the prosthetic nipple in place for several days.
Prosthetic nipples come in different sizes and skin colours but some hospitals custom-make them so they match the nipple on your other breast.
Some companies that manufacture prostheses also produce prosthetic nipples.
Alternatively, if you’ve had a single mastectomy, you might find it easier to use a nipple shield or cover on the other nipple so there is less of a difference. You can buy these from specialist suppliers and some high-street shops.