On this page: Material used in prostheses | Types of prostheses | Buying a breast prosthesis | Wearing a breast prosthesis | Caring for a breast prosthesis | Costs and financial assistance | Air travel with a prosthesis | Question checklist | Key points
Most breast prostheses for long-term use are now made from a solid type of silicone gel. They are moulded into the natural shape of a woman’s breast or part of a breast.
Temporary forms tend to be made with foam, fibrefill or fleece; these are usually worn in the first couple of weeks or months after surgery. Some women continue wearing a soft form at nighttime.
The top and front surface of a permanent breast prosthesis feels soft and smooth. The back surface that rests against your body varies and depends on whether the prosthesis is designed to go into a bra pocket or stick directly to your skin. It can be firm and smooth, flat or hollow, have ridges that are soft and flexible, have sticky (adhesive) spots, or be made of fabric.
Most permanent prostheses are weighted to feel similar to your remaining breast (if only one breast has been removed), but lightweight styles are also available. Some prostheses include a nipple outline, or you can buy a nipple that sticks to the form.
Silicone is a non-toxic, synthetically-made substance that is heat resistant and rubbery.
This makes it useful for moulding to the shape of a natural breast and placing next to the skin. If a prosthesis tears or punctures, the silicone can’t be absorbed by the skin.
"Breast forms are very well designed these days. Anyone pressing up against you would not know the difference - not like the days when they were filled with bird seed or rice." — Jan
Every woman’s body is different so there is a large range of prostheses available in various shapes (triangles, circles or teardrops), cup sizes (shallow, average, full) and skin colours. There are also partial breast forms (triangles, ovals, curves and shells) for women who have had breast-conserving surgery or a reconstruction and want to fill out their breast shape.
Different prostheses have different amounts or layers of silicone. This allows women to match the breast form to the structure and movement of their remaining breast.
Some prostheses are even on both sides (symmetric) or uneven (asymmetric). Symmetric forms can be worn on either side of the body; asymmetric forms are either worn on the right side or the left side.
The type of prosthesis you can wear will depend on the amount and location of tissue removed during surgery. You should be able to find one that is close to your original breast shape and suits your lifestyle. Your fitter will be able to guide you through the range of prostheses that are suitable for you.
Soft breast form
This light breast form usually has a polyester front cover and a cotton back cover. It is mainly used in the weeks immediately after surgery and is good if you have sensitive scar tissue or if you want to wear a form in bed. It can also be used for swimming, although there are other forms more suitable for this purpose.
Due to their light weight, soft forms are not suitable if you need a prosthesis for balance (to even up the weight of the breasts).
Basic breast form
This is a full breast form with a natural curve and weight that helps fill the bra cup completely. The form is made as a single mould using one layer of silicone only. It tends to be heavier than other types of forms.
There are different sizes and shapes for you to get the best fit and comfort. Many have a nipple shape styled into the silicone.
Two-layer breast form
Two-layer breast forms are made with two different layers of silicone. This gives the form a more natural drape depending on the type of breast it is matching – for example a younger breast, an older breast, or a smaller breast. The layering also helps the breast form have a more realistic movement.
They are lighter than basic forms but heavier than lightweight forms. Some two-layer forms include temperature control technology.
Partial breast form or shaper
If surgery or radiotherapy has changed your breast shape significantly (e.g. part of it was removed), you can use a small, specially shaped breast form. This will fill out your bra and achieve symmetry.
Some prostheses are filled with machine washable fleece to obtain the desired size. Certain brands of partial breast forms stick directly to the skin, so they can be worn with a regular, non-pocketed bra. You can also place the form in a pocketed (mastectomy) bra.
Shell breast form
A shell breast form is a type of partial breast form. It is hollow (concave) and fits over any remaining breast tissue to restore your breast to its original shape and size.
Sometimes women who have had a breast reconstruction find that the size of their remaining breast changes if they gain or lose weight. They can use a shell breast form to make their reconstructed breast match the size of their natural breast.
Lightweight breast form
Lightweight breast forms are made with a lightweight silicone and are about a third lighter than a basic breast form.
Lightweight breast forms are useful for women with lymphoedema, osteoporosis or arthritis, or for women with larger breasts. Some lightweight breast forms include temperature-control technology.
Attachable or contact breast form
While many breast forms are designed to be worn in a bra pocket, others stick directly to your skin. You may find that this looks and feels more natural. You will still need to wear a well-fitting bra.
"Because the attachable form sticks to the skin it feels normal and natural, just like my lost breast." — Peggy
Swim breast form
Some women prefer to swim without their breast form or to use a soft form, but if you swim often, there are advantages to buying a swim form. They are made with silicone that retains its shape in and out of the water, and they are resistant to chlorine and saltwater. Swim forms are much lighter than regular prostheses, dry quickly and can be worn in a pocketed swimsuit.
Some manufacturers don’t recommend wearing a silicone form in a sauna or spa because it may heat up against your skin. Try a foam or fibrefill one instead.
It is recommended that you see a trained fitter who can help you choose the right prosthesis, as well as a mastectomy bra, if necessary. You will need to call ahead and make an appointment. This allows you to have uninterrupted time with the fitter.
For some women, having a fitting can be an emotional or distressing experience, especially the first time. You may be embarrassed at the thought of having another woman see the site of the surgery, or feel upset about needing a breast prosthesis. Remember that the professional fitter regularly sees women who have been in a similar situation, so she takes a sensitive approach.
When you go to the fitting, you might like to take a friend with you for support. The other person doesn’t have to come into the dressing room with you.
You may also find it helpful to see some breast forms before your appointment (or even before your operation), to give you an idea of what to expect. Ask your breast care nurse to show you samples of breast forms and bras. You may also benefit from talking to a woman who is using a breast prosthesis. See information about volunteer peer support.
There are some specialist stores that only sell breast forms and associated products. The lingerie section of some major department stores and lingerie boutiques also have trained fitters. There may also be a free home service available in your area.
If you live in a rural area, you might have fewer options for what you can buy and where you can shop. Making a trip to a shop in a large town or city may be beneficial. This might also appeal if you don’t want to shop where people know you.
You can also shop online or ask retailers to send catalogues so you can look at the full range of bras and breast prostheses available. If you see something you like, you may be able to order it, or a fitter can order it in for you. However, it is recommended that you go to a fitter to be seen and measured in person, particularly if you are buying your first one.
Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a list of stores where you can purchase breast prostheses, mastectomy lingerie and accessories.
It is important for your health and comfort that the prosthesis and bra fit correctly. Having a well-fitting bra will ensure your breast prosthesis is comfortable and fits well.
You can bring your own bras (regular, post-surgical or mastectomy) to your fitting or your fitter can suggest a bra from their stock.
The bra holds the prosthesis and protects it from damage. It also supports and shapes the remaining breast, which is used to determine the size of the breast form. A bra that is supportive and fits well:
A tight bra or one that has narrow shoulder straps may obstruct the flow of lymph fluid in your body and cause swelling in the arm (lymphoedema). A good fit will reduce the chance of this.
While some women find that their ordinary bra, sports bra or sports crop top adequately supports their prosthesis, mastectomy bras are specially designed for this purpose. As well as being cut wider under the arm, across the chest and in the straps, mastectomy bras have a pocket in the cup to hold the prosthesis in place. The material is also wide enough to cover an attachable or contact form. There are many attractive designs available.
If you choose to use a regular bra, you can buy or make a pocket to sew into the bra to hold in the prosthesis. A bra pocket pattern can be downloaded here.
A fitting normally takes 40–60 minutes. Most fitters carry out the fitting in a similar way:
You will have privacy when being measured and getting changed during the fitting.
The key to a well-fitting breast form is getting it to match your natural breast as closely as possible. Breast form design has improved over the years so that they appear realistic. With a correctly fitting prosthesis and bra, it is very unlikely that a form will fall out or be noticeable to others.
Aim for a fit that looks natural and feels comfortable. The various styles and materials used in making the forms may feel quite different on your skin or in the bra. This will help you decide which prosthesis is best for you.
Ideally, you will get used to wearing the prosthesis, whether it sticks to your skin or is in a bra pocket, although this may take some time. If the breast form feels uncomfortable or looks obvious, it is probably not the right fit.
"It's like buying anything valuable. You need to take your time and make sure it's right." — Mary-Anne
It may take time to get used to having a prosthesis. You may feel nervous about wearing it, or it may feel different depending on the weather or your clothes. It is natural to have some concerns.
Full silicone breast forms are designed to be about the same weight as a natural breast.
A prosthesis that is correctly fitted and properly supported in a bra will usually not feel too heavy, even if it feels heavy in your hands. It may take a bit of time to get used to, particularly if it has been a while since the mastectomy.
Women who continually find the regular form too heavy may want to try a lightweight form. Some women prefer to wear this kind of prosthesis when playing sport.
Some women find that the prosthesis feels too hot in warm and humid weather. This is more common for women who have larger breasts.
There are a number of options to help you reduce any discomfort you may feel – see below.
"My breast form gets sweaty after I've been playing tennis. I have two, so after a shower I swap." — Pam
You may not need to change your clothes when you start wearing a prosthesis, but you might find you need to make some adjustments. For example, you may no longer feel comfortable wearing low-cut tops. If you have some favourite dresses or tops, bring them with you to your fitting to check how they look over different prostheses.
Your fitter may also carry a range of extras designed specifically to be worn with a breast prosthesis. These include lingerie, nightwear, swimwear, sports bras and camisettes (material that attaches to your bra strap to make low necklines more modest).
The range of mastectomy wear is constantly expanding and many attractive options are available.
Mastectomy swimwear can be bought from your fitter, some department stores, direct from some manufacturers, or online. Features include a bra pocket, wide straps and higher necklines.
Australian and international brands offer a wide range of styles, patterns and colours. Popular brands include Ada, Amoena, Anita, Genevieve, Jantzen, Jets, Kay Attali, Palazzi, Sue Rice (individualised fitting), Watersun, Seabird Swimwear, and Seafolly.
New season swimwear is usually available in stores at the beginning of September and November.
"After my double mastectomy, I wore two prostheses. I had to change a lot of my clothes as I needed to wear the wide-cut mastectomy bras, which were visible with V-necks, evening wear and singlet tops." — Viviane
Changing your clothing and accessories might make you feel more confident and comfortable when wearing a breast prosthesis.
Many different products are available to improve the fit and appearance of your breast prosthesis. Ask the fitter or look online for specialised products.
Prostheses are usually guaranteed for two years for general wear and tear, but they may last longer depending on how often they are worn, how well they’re looked after and your lifestyle. If the form splits or cracks at the seams, it should be replaced.
Cost may influence the type of breast prosthesis and bras you buy:
Medicare provides reimbursement for the cost of a new or replacement breast prosthesis. This is available for women who are permanent residents of Australia, are eligible for Medicare, and have had a full or partial mastectomy as a result of breast cancer.
At the time of publication, the reimbursement covers up to $400 for each new or replacement breast prosthesis since July 2008. If you’ve had a bilateral mastectomy, you are eligible for a reimbursement for two breast prostheses of up to $400 each. However, as policies change, you should check what assistance is available before you buy prostheses or bras.
To make a claim for a replacement prosthesis:
Claim forms are available from any Medicare office or can be downloaded. Attach the original receipt to the claim form and hand it in at any Medicare Service Centre or post it to the address listed on the form. The payment will be made by cheque or electronic funds transfer into your bank account.
Private health funds vary in their rebates for breast prostheses and related products such as mastectomy bras. Some rebates only apply to members with extras cover.
Most health funds have waiting periods and other terms and conditions. They may also require a letter from your surgeon stating why you need a prosthesis. Ask your health fund what is covered and what information is needed. You may be able to claim a reimbursement from Medicare even if you’ve received a private health refund.
You can only claim the Medicare reimbursement if the full price of the prosthesis wasn’t covered, and this reimbursement will be adjusted according to the $400 limit. For example, if you buy a prosthesis for $500, and get a $200 refund from your private health fund, your Medicare reimbursement would be $200.
You may be concerned about travelling with your breast prosthesis. It’s safe to wear or carry a prosthesis during air travel – the change in altitude and air pressure doesn’t affect the prosthesis. International security checkpoints usually require passengers to go through full body scanners, which will detect the prosthesis.
Airport security staff may organise another imaging scan or a pat-down to confirm that the prosthesis isn’t a threat. However, you should not be asked to lift your clothing or remove the prosthesis, and the screening officer should never touch it.
You may find the following questions useful if you want to get more information about breast prostheses. You can talk to your breast care nurse, a breast prosthesis fitter, the Cancer Council, a volunteer from Cancer Council Connect or members of a breast cancer support group.