1. What is a breast prosthesis (artificial breast form)?
2. Will I be given a temporary breast prosthesis after breast surgery?
3. How can I get a permanent breast prosthesis?
4. Do I have to pay for my breast prosthesis?
5. What happens at the breast prosthesis fitting
6. Types of breast prosthesis
7. How should I look after my breast prosthesis?
8. How can I get my breast prosthesis replaced?
9. Can I donate my used breast prosthesis?
10. Air travel with your breast prosthesis
A breast prosthesis is an artificial breast form that replaces the shape of all or part of the breast that has been removed. It fits in a bra cup with or without a bra pocket. ‘Prostheses’ is the word for more than one prosthesis.
Most breast prostheses are made from soft silicone gel 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.
Many women who have had surgery for breast cancer and have not had reconstruction wear a breast prosthesis. However, it may also be useful for women whose breasts are naturally different from each other in size or shape, or who have had breast reconstruction that has not given an even match.
For some women, wearing a prosthesis may be a temporary choice prior to reconstruction. Other women may choose not (or be unable) to have breast reconstruction and find wearing a prosthesis an effective and suitable long-term choice. Some women who do not to have a reconstruction choose not to wear a prosthesis.
If you’ve not had an immediate reconstruction, you will be given a temporary breast prostheses to wear while you are recovering from surgery. Find out more about temporary breast prostheses.
Once your scar area is fully healed and swelling has gone down (usually within six to eight weeks) you can be fitted for a permanent silicone prosthesis, if you choose.
Your breast care nurse will usually arrange a fitting appointment for you. If you’re not given an appointment, ask your breast care nurse.
Your prosthesis fitting will often be at your local hospital. The breast care nurse may do the fitting herself or it may be done by another trained fitter, such as a surgical appliance officer or a representative from a prosthesis company.
At this appointment you will need to have a well-fitting, supportive bra. Some women find it helpful to look at the selection of prostheses before their appointment, or even before their operation if possible, so that 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 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 some specialist suppliers.
NHS patients do not have to pay for their prostheses. Not all prosthesis styles will be 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 have 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.
What to take to your prosthesis fitting
It is important to take a well-fitting bra to your breast prosthesis fitting appointment so 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 can be put on and taken off quickly and easily.
You can 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. It might be useful to think about the clothing and swimwear you plan to wear your prosthesis wear before your appointment. You could also take a variety of tops with different necklines so you can see how it might work with different styles.
At the fitting
The fitter will explain what will happen during the fitting and check you have a well-fitting bra.
At your appointment you should have:
- a selection of sizes and styles of prostheses
- sufficient privacy
- a large mirror and good light so you can see for yourself what the prosthesis looks like in your bra and with clothing over it
- enough time for you to make the right choice
Your prosthesis should feel comfortable, give you a good shape and be a reasonable match to your skin colour.
Prostheses come in many different styles, shapes, weights, skin tones and materials and with a range of accessories. Find out more about types of breast prostheses.
The prosthesis fitter will give you information on how to care for your particular type of prosthesis. If you follow the advice on looking after your prosthesis it should last 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 there may be specific products that you need to use to keep the prosthesis clean. Your prosthesis supplier will be able to tell you more about these.
When you aren’t using your 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 brooches as these may damage it, causing the silicone to leak. If it does get damaged, you can usually seal the tear temporarily with a sticking plaster.
Your prosthesis will have a guarantee but the length of this can vary and most prostheses will last longer than the period of the guarantee. A replacement prosthesis is available 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 or not. You can contact your breast clinic to arrange a prosthesis reassessment and fitting, or if you no longer attend follow-up appointments ask your GP (local doctor) for a referral to the breast clinic or 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 reassessed and given a free new one 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.
Some charities like Hospices of Hope send breast prostheses to Eastern Europe, where it is difficult or impossible to get a breast prosthesis. See our suppliers list for more information on recycling prostheses and bras.