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Your Alternatives to Breast Reconstruction After Breast Cancer

You don't have many options with breast cancer. But you can choose how to live in your body after surgery.


You know the risks and statistics on breast cancer. More than 250,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year. That’s thousands of lumpectomies and mastectomies to remove the tumors.

Breast cancer survivor wearing pink headscarf and pink ribbon

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Here’s a stat you probably don’t know: less than 20 percent of mastectomy patients elect to have breast reconstruction surgery right away. While more and more women are choosing reconstruction every year, the vast majority decides against it.

You have two main alternatives to reconstruction after a mastectomy or lumpectomy.

After breast cancer surgery, your breasts will be different — in shape, volume and appearance. So you have to feel out how you’ll be most comfortable with your body going forward.

Breast Forms

Although you’ve just been through a difficult battle with breast cancer, you may want to feel as if things are back to normal. It’s hard to come to terms with a change in your appearance. For this reason, many women choose to wear a breast form.

A breast form is a prosthetic breast made from silicone, foam or another material. You attach it to your chest to provide the look and feel of natural breasts. Breast forms are similar to implants in that they are designed to mimic the shape, look, feel, weight and movement of your natural form. There are a variety of ways to wear them:

Off-the-Shelf Breast Forms

With a prescription from your doctor, you can get breast forms from a medical supply store or specialized mastectomy retail store. Your options are limited to the sizes and shapes offered by the manufacturers carried in the store. So like with any shopping experience, you may not find the perfect fit.

Custom-Made Breast Prostheses

Custom breast forms are specially created to fit you. Manufacturers scan your body to design prostheses that comfortably fit your post-surgery body. They attach to the body via an adhesive tab or magnetic attachment so that you can wear them with anything, not just specialized bras.

Breast cancer survivor touching right breastMastectomy Bras

With custom breast forms, you could wear the same bras you always wore. With off-the-shelf prostheses, you need pockets to hold them in the bra. Instead of having every bra you own and new ones you buy adapted, you can get a mastectomy bra with the pockets already sewn in. You can get a bra with a pocket in each cup or in just one if you only had cancer in one breast.

It’s not just pockets that make mastectomy bras different. They’re made with softer, lighter materials and without underwires so that they fit more comfortably during your recovery from surgery. Some mastectomy bras even come with built-in breast forms on one or both sides if you don’t have a prosthesis.

Going Flat

Doing nothing is another option. You can simply “go flat” and live without natural or reconstructed breasts and the inconvenience of breast forms or mastectomy bras.

Many women feel more comfortable with their natural form, even if it wasn’t natural for them before surgery. They embrace their freedom from bras and wear their scars with pride to show they’re a breast cancer survivor.

You’re not stuck with a single choice.

There are a variety of reasons you may decide against, or to delay, breast reconstruction. And you don’t even have to make that decision right away. The option will always be there down the road, even if you’ve been living without breasts for years.

The same goes with prosthetic breasts. You can see how it feels to go flat first before deciding if you’re more comfortable and confident with the natural appearance of breast forms.

But there are benefits to gathering all the information, weighing your options and making a decision sooner than later.

Breast reconstruction and breast prostheses are covered by insurance. It is required by law and is considered medically-necessary for breast cancer surgery patients. As with everything, coverage varies and, often, it’s viewed as an alternative to reconstruction. So if you make a claim for breast forms, you may not be able to receive coverage for breast reconstruction in the future. It’s important to talk to your insurance company and consult your breast cancer team to gather all the facts before making a decision.

Ultimately, the decision is about you — your self-image, your confidence and your lifestyle. And if any of those things change, you can choose a different option to empower you after breast cancer.

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