5 Common Misconceptions about Post-Mastectomy Breast Forms

A breast cancer diagnosis, and the subsequent treatment, is anything but comfortable. Here’s how to make your post-mastectomy bra fitting appointment a better experience.

doctor with patient

Myth: Your options are limited

Don’t worry about your post-mastectomy bra fitting being a sterile, medical-like experience with just one or two choices. “Our philosophy has always been about curating the best, most beautiful, well-fitted product, and that philosophy carries over to our breast care collections,” says Christine Ory, owner of Brava Boutique in Toronto. “It’s feminine, it’s private and it doesn’t look like a medical place. It’s still a lingerie boutique.”

When shopping for a mastectomy bra, you may find that you’re able to stick with a brand you love, since many bra brands carry multiple collections. For example, German brand Anita has several regular brand categories (Comfort, Active, Maternity), as well as Anita Care which consists of mastectomy bras, swimwear and breast prostheses.

Ory says that some women are really surprised when they come in and see the options that are available. And, as the Canadian Cancer Society notes, there are many different types of breast prostheses (also called breast forms). “Prostheses and nipple shapes on the breast form come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours.”

Don’t know where to start? University Health Networks provides a list of stores that sell bras and breast forms in Ontario. If you live outside of Ontario, check with your doctor for recommendations.

Myth: You have to pay out of pocket for everything

It’s important to replace your breast form(s) every two years because the silicone that it’s made of can become harder or heaver over time. But that doesn’t have to involve a huge financial burden. Many provincial governments, including Ontario, B.C., Manitoba and Quebec, cover all, or part, of the cost of breast forms. Typical coverage allows for new prostheses every two years. The Manitoba Breast Prosthesis (MBP) Program, for example, allows for up to $400 per prosthesis and $50 towards the purchase of a new bra every two years. B.C.’s Pharmacare covers a maximum of $450 every two years.

You may also be eligible for coverage from private insurance. “If you have insurance, check and see how many surgical bras you’re eligible for per year,” says Ory, noting that some insurance will cover as many as two bras each year.

Myth: A breast form is just for vanity or aesthetic purposes

Most mastectomy bras have pockets in the cups, which is where the breast form is inserted. This isn’t just an aesthetic feature, says Ory. “It really will help with your posture and helps prevent other issues like misalignment of your spine, and any neck, hip and shoulder issues. Wearing a proper prosthesis and pocketed prosthesis bra is going to bring back some of that balance, both aesthetically and physically.”

Myth: You don’t need a prosthesis if you’re small chested

“Some women might think, ‘Oh I’m small, I don’t need to wear a prosthesis,’ but they do, especially if it’s a single mastectomy,” says Ory. “Your body isn’t used to not having the other breast there so you need to have something to compensate so there’s balance with your spine.

The Canadian Cancer Society agrees: “When properly fitted, a permanent prosthesis provides balance for good posture and helps prevent back and neck problems that can happen when a breast has been removed. It also prevents the bra from sliding up and gives a natural shape to clothing.”

Prevention of future health care costs is part of the reason OHIP and health care insurance subsidize breast forms, says Ory.

Myth: It’s a one-size-fits-all experience

There’s nothing one-size-fits-all about breast cancer (just check out these inspiring survivor stories) and there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to post-surgical breast forms. “Everything is customized to a woman’s individual needs–from the fitting of the bra to the type of product she needs at various stages in her recovery,” says Ory. Typically, a woman might start wearing a breast form roughly six weeks after surgery. But, “if a woman has had a mastectomy and is also going through radiation or chemotherapy, then she may be quite sensitive. It really depends on the type of treatment and what stage the client is at and their individual healing process,” she says.

For more information, check with your doctor for individual post-surgery care guidelines.

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