A breast prosthesis is an artificial breast shape that sits inside your bra to replace all or part of your breast.
You use a prosthesis after you have surgery to remove the whole breast (mastectomy). There are also prostheses available if you have surgery to remove part of the breast. These are called partial prosthesis.
Some women may have a delayed breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. You can wear a prosthesis after the mastectomy until you have your reconstruction. A breast reconstruction is surgery to create a new breast mound after a mastectomy.
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. It is very soft and will not put pressure on the wound.
Some women are happy with their cumfie and continue wearing it instead of getting another type of permanent prosthesis.
About 6 weeks after a mastectomy, once your scar has healed and you have finished any radiotherapy you may need, you’ll be ready for your permanent prosthesis.
Radiotherapy can sometimes cause your breast to become swollen a little. You may prefer to have your prosthesis fitted when you no longer have any swelling.
The permanent prosthesis is made from silicone.
You have the prosthesis fitted at the hospital where you had your surgery. This may be with your breast care nurse or a surgical appliance officer.
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.
To look after your prosthesis, you should wash it in warm soapy water 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.
There are partial prosthesis available if you have part of your breast removed. You wear it inside your bra and it is shaped to fill out the breast outline. It’s made of the same silicone material as most full prostheses.
Getting a new prosthesis
You can get a replacement artificial breast shape 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.
You can ask your breast care nurse about a replacement. Or you may need to ask your GP for a referral to the breast clinic or a surgical appliance officer in your area.
You will find that you can usually wear the same style of clothes you wore before surgery. Sometimes making small adjustments to your clothes may help.
Wearing clothes that you feel comfortable and good in can make you feel more confident. It may help to talk to other people who have had similar surgery and experiences.
This is Pam's story about her diagnosis and surgery.
"I decided not to have a breast reconstruction. I felt that a mastectomy bra and breast sponge would be OK for me."