Find out about temporary and permanent prostheses after surgery for breast cancer.
A breast prosthesis is an artificial breast shape that sits inside your bra to replace all or part of your breast.
If you have a mastectomy without breast reconstruction, your nurse will give you a lightweight fabric breast shape to put in your bra. This is often called a cumfie or softie.
You can wear it right after the operation if you want to, even if the area feels tender.
Some women are happy with their cumfie and continue wearing it instead of getting another type of permanent prosthesis.
About 6 weeks after mastectomy, once your scar has healed and you have finished any radiotherapy you may need, you’ll be ready for your permanent prosthesis. This is made from silicone.
You have the prosthesis fitted by the breast care nurse at the hospital where you had your surgery.
Many types of breast prostheses are available free on the NHS.
If you are a private patient, you might have to pay for this. Or you can ask for a referral to the NHS prosthesis fitting service.
The breast shapes come in different sizes, shapes and colours. Most women should be able to find something they are happy with on the NHS. But if not, there is more choice available if you buy your own from a manufacturer.
Special mastectomy bras are available. They have pockets to hold the prosthesis. But you don't normally need a pocket. If your bra fits well and has full cups (rather than a low plunge), you should be fine. You can have pockets sewn inside your own bras free of charge on the NHS, if you want to. Ask your breast care nurse about this.
To look after your prosthesis, you should wash and dry it daily.
You can wear your usual prosthesis or make your own swimming prosthesis by cutting an ordinary sponge to fit.
If you use your usual prosthesis, rinse it in clean water afterwards to get rid of any chlorine or salt.
If you use a sponge, you can discreetly press your arm against it when you come out of the water, to squeeze the water out.
Many of the breast cancer organisations supply bras and swimwear for women who have had a mastectomy.
Women who have had part of a breast removed can use a partial prosthesis or a shell prosthesis.
A partial prosthesis is shaped to fit the tissue you've had removed. It can fill out the bottom, top or side of your bra.
A shell prosthesis is a hollow breast shape that fits over your remaining breast tissue. With a bra on, your breast will look the same size and shape that it was.
Talk to your breast care nurse to find out about either of these special types of prosthesis.
Getting a new prosthesis
You can get a new artificial breast shape every 2 years on the NHS. You might need a new prosthesis if yours gets worn or damaged. You might also need to replace it if you gain or lose weight.