By Adam Welsch
In the United States alone, over 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. For many of them, some form of mastectomy or lumpectomy becomes a necessary part of their treatment. And while some patients choose to undergo breast reconstruction at the same time that their mastectomies (and some lumpectomies) are performed, others choose to delay reconstruction, or decide against it altogether. For these latter two groups of patients, mastectomy bras and accessories can play an important role in the physical and emotional healing process. According to The Woman’s Personal Health Resource, Inc. ®, there are two general types of mastectomy bras. The first one has prostheses, or breast forms, built permanently into its cups. For women who suffer from arthritis and other joint afflictions, this type can be the best option as it eliminates the need to insert the breast forms into, and remove them out of, the pockets. Forms that are permanently attached to mastectomy bras are usually made out of foam.
The second type of mastectomy bra features pockets inside its cups that hold removable breast forms. They’re available in the same band and cup sizes as conventional bras. Pocket mastectomy bras come in an amazing number of styles. Some have soft cups and others have underwires; some have stitched cup seams, while others feature molded cups. There are those that have hook-and-eye closures on the front, while others have them in the back. There are even some that use zippers, instead of hook-and-eyes, as front closures. Pocket mastectomy bras are available in regular and plus sizes, and are made from a variety of fabrics including satin, lace, nylon tricot, and spandex. There are even sports, T-shirt, and crisscross styles. Pocketed cups have also afforded the creation of mastectomy body shapers and daywear camisoles.
All such mastectomy intimates are made to accommodate patients who have had either single or double mastectomies.
If the choice of a pocket mastectomy bra is made, the wearer’s next step is to choose the type of breast form or forms that’ll be worn with it. Breast forms may be made from any of four different materials. The lightest and coolest options consist of either foam or fiberfill, and are great choices for those deciding to wear prostheses soon after surgery, during exercise, or while sleeping. Other forms contain liquid gels. Those that provide the most realistic feel are made from silicone and are available in a variety of weights. Unlike implants, silicone breast forms are not liquid in nature and, therefore, cannot leak if punctured or torn.
Breast forms are made in a range of sizes that correspond to specific bra and cup size combinations. Women who have undergone double mastectomies have the option to use any cup size they prefer to determine the size of the breast form they’ll use. However, it’s important for them to keep their body measurements and proportions in mind when making this decision. The goal, after all, is to achieve the most natural-looking appearance possible.
Breast forms are available in several different silhouettes. They may be triangular or teardrop-shaped, and models made specifically for the left or right side are also available. In order to appear as realistic as possible, many silicone forms are made with nipples. Separate prosthetic nipples can also be purchased that may be adhered to the breast form or directly applied to a reconstructed breast. Partial breast forms or “enhancers” are also available to women who have undergone lumpectomies and are looking to fill out the rest of their cups. These are almost always made of silicone.
Though most breast forms are made to be placed inside the pockets of mastectomy bras, newer attachable breast forms are now available which adhere directly to the skin and can remain attached for several days. Of course the significant benefit of these forms is that they allow women to continue to wear their favorite conventional bras. Conventional breast forms may also be worn with conventional bras; however, since these bras don’t have pockets, the forms can slip out of place and create embarrassing situations.
Though there are a multitude of websites that sell mastectomy bras, breast forms, and related accessories, the best advice available for mastectomy patients – especially those who’ve recently undergone their surgeries – is to shop at brick & mortar specialty bra stores where they can be professionally fitted, and try on a variety of bra and breast form styles. Remember, wearing a mastectomy bra with one or two breast forms feels differently than wearing a conventional bra. It’s important to try on a variety of sizes and styles of bras, as well as breast forms, until the right combination is found. Such comparison shopping simply cannot be done online.