Many women choose, or may be advised, not to have immediate breast reconstruction surgery after having a mastectomy and decide instead to wear a breast prosthesis (breast form).
This aims to restore the appearance of having a breast(s) when fully clothed.
Some women may have significant asymmetry after breast conservation surgery and may require a partial prosthesis to restore a balanced appearance.
Alternatively, you may like to consider reconstructive surgery.
What kinds of external breast prostheses are available?
- A temporary prosthesis is a fabric pocket filled with soft, fluffy material and can be used while your wound is healing and until you’re ready for a permanent prosthesis.
- A permanent prosthesis can be a custom-made form that you can wear your own bra (non-mastectomy bra), or a silicone form that fits into a pocket in your mastectomy bra. The prosthesis is individually fitted to resemble the shape and weight of the other breast or after bilateral mastectomy, to suit your body size and shape. Lightweight foam prostheses are also available.
- Attachable silicone nipples and prostheses for swimming costumes are also available.
- Prostheses may also be made of foam or may be knitted for occasions when women don’t want to be wearing their full-weight prostheses.
How much do they cost?
The Ministry of Health currently offers a subsidy for a prosthesis and other related products (e.g. pocketed mastectomy bras and swimwear) after surgery for breast cancer. Visit Ministry of Health’s Prosthesis and Bra Subsidy for more information.
Read the Breast Prothesis Service Payment fact sheet here.
It will cover the cost of the following:
- Breast prostheses or breast forms (these may include standard breast forms, swim form, foam filler, shell prosthesis, and lumpectomy shells)
- Pocketed bras to hold the breast prosthesis
- Surgical bras and modification of normal bras or swimwear to hold a prosthesis
- Prosthetic nipples
When you have chosen your prosthesis and/or special bras, the supplier or stockist will make the claim to HealthPac for you, or you can make it yourself if you prefer. If the cost of your products is over the subsidy limit, then you will need to pay the balance. The supplier or stockist will give you receipts for your products and it’s a good idea to put these somewhere safe so you can keep track of your subsidy and know when you are eligible to claim again.
The specialist fitters have had special training and are capable and considerate when fitting and choosing a prosthesis and bras. She will guide you in the process of being fitted: explain the product care; show you all the options available to you; and make you feel relaxed and at ease with all the information you need.
If appropriate, the fitter will talk to you about lymphoedema and discuss the use and fitting of a compression garment.
You may consider taking a friend with you as this can be an anxious time and a second opinion can be helpful regarding how you wish to look.
Here are some tips from other women:
Do some research about the best place to go. The fitter is giving you something that is going to be an intimate part of your person for a couple of years. Don’t be rushed or pushed into something you’re not happy with.
- Kim M.
I had a prosthetic fitted just under three years ago and the fitter was absolutely lovely; very caring and understanding. You wouldn’t even know by looking that I have a prosthetic. It even feels like a normal breast from the outside. Not at all uncomfortable to wear either.
- Michelle M.
My first one was very rushed which being the first was particularly difficult. My second is due shortly and now I have a lovely fitter who has already started talking about what would be the best options for me.
- Lani H.
Helpful hint – when you get your prosthesis check with your insurance company that they will cover it if it gets damaged. I leant too close the stove top and damaged mine – claimed insurance for it and the bra!!.
- Kate P.
Search the Breast Cancer Services Directory for a list of specialist fitters in your area. They will guide and advise you on the fitting and purchase of your prosthesis and bras. They are located throughout New Zealand and some have a mobile service and will come to your home. If you need help or advice, call our nurses on 0800 BC NURSE
Knitted Knockers is a voluntary organisation whose members knit lightweight breast forms and supply them free of charge to women around New Zealand.
For more information, contact Marie Hindmarsh on
Find out more about knitted knockers here, or, if you’d like to make your own, find the instructions here.
Questions to ask after surgery:
- Do I need to wear a breast prosthesis?
- What kind of prosthesis would suit me best?
- When can I start wearing a breast form?
- How will wearing or not wearing a prosthesis affect my lymphoedema?
- What if I find the breast form too heavy or I have other problems?
- How long might it take to get used to the prosthesis?
- Do I need to buy mastectomy bras or can I use regular ones?