The Women's Health Resource. On the web since 1997.

Breast Prostheses and Post-Mastectomy Products

What is a Breast Prosthesis?

An external breast prosthesis is an artificial breast form that can be worn after the breast has been surgically removed. There are several different types of prostheses. They may be made from silicone gel, foam, fiberfill or other materials that feel similar to natural tissue. Most are weighted so that they feel the same as the remaining breast (if only one breast has been removed). Some adhere directly to the chest area while others are made to fit into pockets of post-mastectomy bras (see description below). Different types of prostheses may also have different features, such as a mock nipple or special shape. In many cases, a woman will be fitted for a prosthesis so that it can be custom-made for her body. Partial prostheses, called equalizers or enhancers, are also available for women who have had part of their breasts removed.

What is a Mastectomy and a Post-Mastectomy Bra?

A mastectomy is a common treatment for breast cancer that involves surgically removing the breast. A modified radical mastectomy is the most common type of mastectomy performed today. This procedure involves removing the breast, nipple/areolar region, and often the axillary (underarm) lymph nodes. Other types of mastectomies include simple mastectomy (removes the breast, with its skin and nipple, but no lymph nodes) and partial mastectomy (remove a portion of the breast tissue and a margin of normal breast tissue). Click here to learn more about mastectomy.

After a mastectomy, some women will be able to wear their regular bras with few or no adjustments. If the surgical area is especially sensitive after surgery, a bra extender can help increase the circumference around the body and make wearing a bra feel more comfortable. Bra shoulder pads can help prevent bra straps from digging into the shoulder.

If a woman chooses to wear a breast prosthesis that does not adhere directly to the skin, she will need to wear a special post-mastectomy bra with pockets for the breast form (special swimsuits also hold breast forms). Some women find that special sleep or leisure bras with or without pockets for a prosthesis are comfortable to wear overnight.

Who Should Consider a Prosthesis and/or Post-Mastectomy Bra?

Any woman who has undergone breast cancer surgery that has removed a significant portion of tissue is a candidate for a breast prosthesis, which often needs to be worn with a post-mastectomy bra. Many women do not wish to have surgical breast reconstruction after breast cancer surgery or decide to wait several months or years before having reconstructive surgery. For these women, breast prostheses and mastectomy bras are viable alternatives.

When Can Women Begin Wearing Prostheses?

Usually, a patient’s physician will recommend that she wear a camisole (sleeveless undergarment made of soft material) with a non-weighted breast prosthesis after breast cancer surgery until the surgical site is completely healed. This typically takes between four and eight weeks but may be longer or shorter depending on the individual situation. After the chest area has healed, a woman may be fitted for a weighted external breast prosthesis.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Wearing a Prosthesis?

The main benefit of wearing a breast prosthesis (versus nothing) is that a weighted prosthesis can help balance the body and anchor the bra, preventing back or neck pain, shoulder sagging, or having a bra "ride up" in the back. Some women find that their prosthesis feels heavy at first since they are not used to wearing it. However, in time, most women feel comfortable with their prosthesis. Breast prostheses can also help protect the chest area and mastectomy scars.

While breast prostheses can provide physical and emotional benefits after breast cancer surgery, some women do not feel satisfied wearing breast forms. For these women, surgical breast reconstruction is a more appropriate decision. Most women who undergo breast cancer surgery are candidates for reconstructive surgery, either during the same surgery as the breast is removed or at a later date. The two main types of reconstructive surgeries are implant insertion and muscle flap reconstruction (the latter involves using the patient’s own tissue from another area of the body to reconstruct the breast). Click here to lean more about breast reconstruction.

Is a Prescription Necessary in Order to Purchase a Prosthesis or Post-Mastectomy Bra?

While not required, it is highly recommended that breast cancer patients have their physicians write a prescription for a breast prosthesis and post-mastectomy bra. Many insurance companies will cover some or all of the costs for these products if they are prescribed by a physician. Patients should check with their insurance providers for details about the coverage. It is also important for the physician to specify how many prostheses are necessary and how often they should be replaced. For example, Medicare will cover the cost of a new breast prosthesis every two years and two post-mastectomy bras every six months (see the section Will Insurance Providers Cover the Cost of a Prosthesis or Post-Mastectomy Bra? for more information).

How Much Do Prostheses and Post-Mastectomy Bras Cost?

Taking a sufficient amount of time to consider the different types of breast prostheses is important. The prices of prostheses vary significantly and a higher priced prosthesis may not be the most comfortable one. The following are approximate prices of breast prostheses and post-mastectomy bras.

Product Type Price Range
Silicone Prostheses
Non-Silicone Prostheses
Equalizers and Enhancers
Post-Reconstructive/Surgical Bras
Post-Surgical Camisoles
Post-Mastectomy Bras

Source: Rhonda Fleming Mann Resource Center for Women with Cancer

Will Insurance Providers Cover the Cost of a Prosthesis or Post-Mastectomy Bra?

Many insurance companies will cover the cost of a limited number of breast prostheses and post-mastectomy bras if they have been prescribed by a physician. In some cases, additional paperwork or procedures need to be followed to ensure coverage. Breast cancer patients who wish to wear prostheses and/or post-mastectomy bras should contact their insurance providers prior to purchasing these items to determine whether they are covered and what needs to be done to ensure coverage. Since the prices of prostheses and post-mastectomy bras vary significantly depending on the style, type, etc., patients should also determine whether their insurance provider has set a "price limit" for these items.

In some instances, women will need to purchase the prosthesis and post-mastectomy bras themselves and turn in the appropriate paperwork to their insurance providers to receive partial or total reimbursement. Other times, the manufacturer or shop where the items are purchased will bill the patient’s insurance company directly. Again, these matters should be worked out with the insurance company prior to making a purchase. Some insurance companies may require patients to order products from a specific manufacturer or shop.

It is also important for women to ask their physicians to note how often the prosthesis will need to be replaced. On average, prostheses need to be replaced every one to two years and additional post-mastectomy bras need to be purchased every three months to a year. For example, breast cancer patients on Medicare receive coverage for one new prosthesis every two years and two post-mastectomy bras every six months.

 Click here to view the directory of breast prosthesis manufacturers and shops.

Additional Resources and References

  • The American Cancer Society provides information on breast prostheses at
  • The Ted Mann Family Resource Center is a nonprofit organization who works in conjunction with the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. The organizations provides information on breast prostheses and post-mastectomy bras at

Updated: January 31, 2008