An external breast prosthesis is an artificial breast that is worn under clothing to imitate the shape of the breast.
A breast prosthesis can recreate the appearance of a breast shape under clothing and can also help to improve your balance and posture, which may be affected after a mastectomy.
There are a wide variety of external breast prostheses available. Some are held within specially designed bras, while others are attached to the skin with a sticky backing. Special swimsuits are available to hold prostheses in place while swimming.
Breast prostheses are available from some lingerie stores, department stores or specialty stockists. Trained staff members are often on hand to help you choose the prosthesis that is right for you. Things to consider include the shape and size of the prosthesis, how comfortable it is and the cost.
"The moment I had that prosthesis in my bra and they told me to put a T Shirt on and I looked in the mirror and I was so happy. I almost physically hugged the professional fitter, because you sort of perceive yourself as a woman with two breasts, suddenly you've got one breast, you're not quite exactly the same."
Pros and cons of breast prostheses
Some women find external breast prostheses comfortable and are happy with how their breast shape looks. Smaller breasted women in particular may find external breast prostheses comfortable.
"So it (external breast prostheses) was a nuisance value. And it was uncomfortable and I couldn't wear low-neck dresses. And so I think it was not body image in that I didn't like the way my body looked, but it was body image in the way it interfered with what I did and what I wore."
Other women find external breast prostheses uncomfortable, cumbersome and impractical. Prostheses are often described as hot, sometimes heavy, and can sometimes irritate the skin. Self-adhesive prostheses require regular cleaning. Some women report difficulty with their prostheses during physical activity and sports. Of particular concern to some women is the fear that the prostheses may fall out of clothing.
"I was surprised to find that my breast prosthesis fits so well and gives a very natural look to my clothes. I wear it with lots of different bras and I forget that it is there. It moves with my body during sport; swimming, tennis, golf, paddling; and does not do anything embarrassing - except when I forget to wear it. A sensitive specialist fitter and good bras are important."
External Breast Prostheses Reimbursement Program
The Australian Government provides financial support for the purchase of new or replacement external breast prostheses through Medicare Australia. Women must be permanent residents of Australia with Medicare entitlement and have had a mastectomy (recent or past).
The reimbursement is up to $400 for each new or replacement prosthesis. A woman can claim every 2 years if needed. If private health insurance has covered part of the cost of your prostheses you are entitled to claim for the remaining costs not covered by your health fund. For more information go to www.medicareaustralia.com.au/public/services/breast-prosthesis, call Medicare on 13 20 11 or visit a Medicare office.
"I've been happy with my body image, I mean I can laugh at the fact that I've lost my boob. I played in an orchestra and I went to the pub with friends afterwards one night and the Leader of this orchestra said, "well what does this prosthesis look like anyway?" And I turned around and there was hardly anyone around and I just got it out and threw it at him. I mean that's my way of coping and I've got a black humour anyway."