Unless a mastectomy patient has undergone immediate breast reconstruction, she usually begins to wear a temporary prosthesis (an artificial breast) before leaving the hospital. This can be a soft Dacron pad brought by the Reach to Recovery volunteer, or a homemade version of tissues, cotton balls, or other types of padding.
After the scar is completely healed (four to six weeks after surgery), the patient can be fitted for a full prosthesis. Available in corset shops, surgical supply stores, and some large department stores, these breast replacements are made of polyester or foam rubber or consist of pockets filled with liquid or silicone gel. The filled kind are more lifelike in consistency, but can leak if punctured by pin or fingernail. Prostheses come in all shapes and sizes, and in both light and dark flesh tones.
Many women mistakenly assume that a mastectomy means an end to wearing sweaters or other figure-revealing clothes. In fact, most women find that they can wear most of their previous clothes without embarrassment or alteration. (A skimpy bikini may not be possible, but there are many fashionable bathing suits that can be worn.) A selection of clothes should be taken to the prosthesis fitting, along with a good friend who can act as an observer and make sure that the prosthesis is lifelike from all angles. Of course, the prosthesis should be comfortable. Mastectomy bras with a pocket to hold the prosthesis or a washable cloth cover for it are also available.
Small-breasted women can make their own prostheses. Instructions are available from the American Cancer Society. But prostheses are very helpful for all mastectomy patients, especially if they are large-breasted. For those women, lack of a properly fitted prosthesis can lead to aches in the back and shoulders and poor posture.