Breast Cancer Prosthesis & Inserts: Part 1: Things to Consider & How to Fit 

Summary: After your diagnosis, it will be time to think about your after-surgical plans. Will you want to wear a breast prosthesis? If so, what kind? There is a myriad of options available to breast cancer survivors to help make their lives more comfortable, while still allowing for them to feel feminine and beautiful. Here you can learn about the different breast prosthesis options for you and the details about each type. Learn how the fitting and sizing works for most breast inserts as well.

Once you receive your breast cancer diagnosis and begin treatment, it will become time to think about how you want to deal with your body changes as they happen, especially if you are having a mastectomy or other form of breast surgery. There are numerous types of breast inserts on the market that can help you to feel more secure and comfortable in your “new” after-surgery body. ‘Knitted Knockers’ are crocheted, soft ‘breasts’ made to fit into your bra. These are available through many local hospitals and agencies. There are a multitude of real-feel skin breast inserts that range in shape (from triangles, to circles or teardrops), colors and cup sizing (shallow, average or full) to help you get just the look and feel you want. Partial breast forms are for those women who have had breast-conserving surgery and they help to retain breast symmetry. Learning about all of the varieties available to you can help you to make the best selection.

In the weeks after your surgery, your breast area will be very sore and tender. During this time, you might choose to wear a light breast prosthesis called a soft form almost immediately, or whenever you can stand the sensation and ‘thing’ in your bra. A soft form is a type of insert that can be worn in a special bra that has a pocket for holding these sorts of inserts. If bras are still too bothersome; tight or constricting around your surgical point or abdomen, you could consider wearing a pocketed camisole, made from very light material. Soft forms can most often be worn into therapies like radiotherapy as well.

After you have recovered from your treatment, you can seek out a fitting for a permanent insert, or prosthesis. This time frame is different for every patient. Some wait only four weeks, some two months, and others six weeks after radiotherapy ends to give your skin and tissues time to breathe and heal. To better understand your own time frames, simply ask your oncologist or surgeon at your next check-up. This is not a process that should be rushed.

When you are considering getting an insert or prosthesis, you should know the benefits and drawbacks.

  • Benefits of a Breast Prosthesis
  • Gives a more natural shape underneath clothing.
  • Each insert can be worn with different clothing, while playing sports and swimming.
  • Does not require surgery.
  • Can be easily replaced.
  • Can be matched to your breast size and adjusted with weight loss or gain.
  • Easy to change size or have extra sizes on hand.
  • Can be worn while waiting for reconstructive surgery and during treatment.
  • Can be made to match your skin color.
  • Medicare and certain insurances subsidize the cost.
  • Drawbacks of having a breast prosthesis or insert.
  • The insert or prosthesis will need to be replaced every few years.
  • If you are not comfortable with the insert, you may feel self-conscious or embarrassed, or even worried about it falling out.
  • The insert may be uncomfortable at times, feel hot, heavy or irritating; especially when you are playing a sport.
  • You may need to alter your clothing or utilize other accessories to accommodate your insert or prosthesis.
  • You may need to purchase a special bra that is made to hold the inserts or prosthesis you plan to use. This garment may require special washing instructions.
  • You may not like the idea of having an artificial breast.

Temporary forms are usually made with foam, fiberfill or a soft, fleece material, which are what is worn in the first weeks or months after your surgery. These soft forms can also be worn at nighttime, if desired. Knitted Knockers are also worn during this time period. Most of the breast protheses for long-term use are made from medical grade silicone gel. The silicone is molded into the natural shape of a woman’s breast or part of the breast. The front surface feels soft and smooth, much like real skin; also warming to body temperature. The back surface that rests against the body varies depending on whether the prosthesis is designed to go into a bra pocket or attach directly to your skin. It can be firm and smooth, flat or hollow, have ridges that are soft and flexible, have adhesive spots, or be made of fabric. There are also nipple forms that can be added, some that attach, or others that are free form.

The Many Types of Breast Prosthesis

There are numerous styles and types of breast inserts, and they are all made in different ways. They vary in layers of silicone, giving the insert a skin-like feel that can move along with their remaining breast and surrounding skin. The type of breast insert you can wear will depend on the location and amount of tissue taken from your breast during surgery. You should have no trouble finding one that is close to your original breast size and shape, along with suiting your active lifestyle. Here are some of the top styles of breast prosthesis on the market today.

  • This is the soft breast form. These types of forms are used immediately after surgery, as well as during the night and relaxing times. These forms are worn inside of a pocketed bra or camisole and have a polyester front cover and a cotton back. They are lightweight and breathable.
  • This three-layer breast form is worn in a pocketed bra or camisole and made for everyday use. The three layers of silicone help to form a drape and move more realistically; depending on the type of breast it is matching. For example, this might mean a younger breast, an older breast or a smaller breast.
  • Partial-breast forms are used for changes in the breast after radiotherapy or breast conserving surgery. This can be worn directly in the bra cup, is regular weighted, and made of two layers of silicone. The extra-soft silicone has a layer that, when warmed by the skin, helps it to stay in place.
  • The Light-weight breast form is made from ultra-light weight silicone that weighs forty percent less than other inserts like it. This insert is designed to drape and slope like the natural breast.
  • The attachable or contact breast form connects directly to the chest tissue. The silicone insert is light weight and designed to work around the scars left from surgery. These can help to create cleavage when worn correctly.
  • The swimming breast forms are worn in bathing suits and are made from clear water-resistant silicone. This lightweight material dries quickly, and you only need to gently wash it after use.

Finding the Right Breast Prosthesis or Insert for You

For some women, having a fitting for your first prosthesis can be very overwhelming and cause a distressing experience. It can be embarrassing and difficult to deal with having another person touching and viewing your surgical site, or just be generally upset about needing the breast prosthesis in the first place. If you feel like this, you may want to try your own fitting and purchase in a more private setting. By using a personal fitter, you can also take your partner or a friend for support. Also, taking the time to see the forms and inserts before you try them on can help you to prepare yourself and your mind for this new experience. For your fitting, you will want to:

  • Allow plenty of time for the fitting.  
  • Let your fitter know how you feel about the look and feel of the breast form. If something doesn’t feel comfortable, tell her. 
  • Ask her questions; about the care of the form, wearing instructions, accessories you may need and the store’s return policy. 

During your fitting, or time trying on different forms, you will be given as much privacy as you need. The fitter can help you to asses the condition of your skin and make sure there is no drainage or open wounds. If you are struggling with how to properly fit the breast inserts, consider this method to find your best size.

Cup fullness
Is the fullness of your remaining (or desired) breast: (1) shallow, (2) average or (3) full?

Looking at your remaining breast, she will establish which of the following shapes you need (or would best suit your frame if you have lost both breasts): (s)Symmetrical,  Asymmetrical, (e) Extra, (u)Universal

Generally speaking, a symmetrical shape is best following a standard mastectomy and an asymmetrical breast form is best if you have had lymph nodes or tissue removed from under your arm.

Bra size

To determine the size of breast form, the fitter will measure you to check your bra size, by taking measurements at strategic points on the chest wall and around the rib cage. The fit of your bra is crucial to how natural the breast form will feel, so this is an important step. The company that your breast inserts come from will have a similar sizing chart for you to follow.

Getting a breast prosthesis is a big step on the road back to living. Embracing your body and accepting yourself should be at the forefront of your focus. Take your time and ease into these steps of breast cancer recovery and survival. The Reclaiming Intimacy Through HOPE team is here to help you in your quest for quality, supportive prosthesis.

Example Videos from YouTube:

Video: Fitting of a Bra with Inserts:

Resources Used:

Reclaiming Intimacy



Breast Cancer of America

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