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Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS)

Breast prostheses

Women who had a mastectomy without immediate breast reconstruction were given a lightweight foam prosthesis (false breast), which they could put inside their bra. This is sometimes called a cumfie or softie. It is designed to be worn immediately after the operation when the area feels tender. When the wound has fully healed, they can choose a permanent prosthesis. This is a false breast that closely matches the size and shape of the healthy breast and is worn inside the bra. Prostheses are made from soft silicone gel encased in a thin film, moulded to form the natural shape of a woman’s breast. The outer surface feels soft and smooth, and may include a nipple outline. They are available in all skin colours. Several types of prosthesis are available from the NHS.
 
Some women talked about having a prosthesis fitting with the breast care nurse shortly after their chest area had fully healed. Although most women were happy with the fitting, one felt that the nurse was a bit insensitive.
 

Janet says she had small breasts so is happy using a cumfie. She is waiting to get her prosthesis...

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 60
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I am waiting, again the Breast Nurse has been very helpful about where to get special bras from and what sort to get. Because before this I didn’t wear a bra, I was so small I didn’t wear a bra. But it’s had a good outcome because I’m 68, I’ve never worn a bra, so my tiny little boobs that had started up here as small as they are, have gradually sort of worked there way down to here [laughs]. So that now in order to wear this cumfie thing to give myself some shape I have to wear a bra in order to have somewhere to put this thing. So I have been to Marks and Spencers and got their sort of support built in sports bra which has had an effect of lifting my little remaining one up and so I’m sort of looking a bit more perky [laughs].
 
But I am waiting for the prosthesis that she has ordered, the very smallest that they do. But I felt, she showed me one, and I thought it’s, felt rather heavy, felt a lot heavier than what I’ve got here. But anyway we are waiting for this double AA whatever it is to come [laughs] and I’ll try it out. But really I am quite happy with this little kapok thing but it’s not, I’m sure this prosthesis that we are waiting for is a better shape. I mean it really looks and feels just like a proper breast so I will try it out, yes.
Most women who chose not to have breast reconstruction used a prosthesis, though a few said they often wore a cumfie or nothing at all because they’d always had small breasts. Some women said that, at first, they felt self-conscious about wearing a prosthesis, and putting it into their bra was something they had to get used to, as was having to buy special bras from specialist stockists. One younger woman said she didn’t like the range of bras available, which seemed to be aimed towards older women. For many women, putting a prosthesis into their bra was ‘a constant reminder’ that they’d had cancer. With time, however, it was something they accepted and got used to, including washing and looking after it.
 

Felicity is happy using a prosthesis, though does sometimes feel lop-sided. She said she feels...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 41
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Actually I'm very comfortable with the prosthesis and it's not great. I do feel a bit lopsided sometimes and I, but I really, I don't think about it that much at all. The prosthesis is great, you know. I'm very comfortable with it. The scar, you know, I have, I mean it’s healed up fantastically. I consider myself to be very lucky. I have a friend who’s in the last stages of cancer and I think, “I didn't lose an arm, I just lost a breast”.
 
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Gillian now has to think a bit more about buying bras and what she wears. She has some good...

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Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 50
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The side that’s not so easy to deal with I guess is the way you’ve been left, the way your body’s been left. That I found hard to deal with. You have to be a little bit more careful with your clothes. I go to a specialist shop for my bras. I have a prosthesis that you can put in the bra and also a stick on prosthesis. And both I find very good to be honest, very good. I’ve been swimming with the stick on prosthesis on, with a water one you can wear in water. Again I’ve got swimming costumes from the specialist shop. And they have a nice choice there. So you just have to go and get your bras from somewhere different. And your swimming costumes from somewhere different. On the plus side, they are actually more fitted to your bust size. So that’s a bonus.
 
… I still like to look good…. I just like to, you know, make an effort. It is a bit more of an effort, as I say, because you just have to but your prosthesis in. And also while you’re going through this, having had the mastectomy, once you get your prosthesis, you are reminded every time you get up in the morning, you have to put something on. You know, you have to put a special bra on, you have to put this special thing in, a prosthesis that isn’t a stick on, you have to wash it, you know, just as if it was a part of you. You’ve still got to wash it and put it on and dry it. If you go anywhere you have to go with it, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got it with you to wear. And you need to the box to put it in to help it keep its shape.
 
I’ve got the stick on prosthesis as well. Again you need to wash that and put it on in the morning. But in the evening you take it off. It’s got a sticky back to it and you put a special cleaner on it. And with a scrubbing brush you scrub the sticky part and then you rinse it. You mustn’t let it, you know, it’s got to be a sort of tepid water. And then you dry it, you either leave it to dry naturally or use a hair dryer on a low setting to dry it. So it’s quite involved what you have to go through with, but you get into a routine with it. But it’s something I do every night. I just take my breast off and wash it. And put it carefully in the box and cover over the top where it’s sticky to keep it clean.
Some women said they resented having to wear their prosthesis at all times, even at home with their family, in order to avoid looking lop sided. A few women said they found the prosthesis heavy but preferred swimming prostheses because they were lighter.
 

At first, Linda found wearing a prosthesis hard to accept. She is used to wearing one now but...

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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For the first three weeks really you can’t do anything, you can’t go out, because of this silly prosthesis that they give you. Actually it’s supposed to last six weeks, well I bought my own, I bought a swim, what they call a swim prosthesis which is quite a light weight, it’s a clear see through thing, but it didn’t matter because it was going in a bra. And I was able to get on with things then. I was able to go out and about and get out, I was able to, you know, it felt better. But then I got my proper prosthesis, and I can remember sitting down, put it on the corner of the bed and trying to fasten my bra with this, which is quite heavy, and it took me about five minutes, maybe more to do a simple two minute job. And I just sat and cried and I thought. “Is this my life now, from now on?”
 
And I couldn’t cope with that, until I got used to it because I suffer with bursitis in my shoulder so I have problems getting my arm up my back and I thought, “Well you know, this is it now, this is you from now on.” So this is why, you know, I thought to myself, and whilst I’m used to it now, it’s a case of a couple of minute job, now I’m fine, no problem. I’ve still, I definitely have got to have a reconstruction and be able to go out and buy, go to Marks and Spencer and buy a bra, off the shelf, instead of having to go online you know. So this is the, it has it's been a roller coaster of emotions yeah.
 

Patricia found her prosthesis heavy and uncomfortable and prefers wearing a swim prosthesis.

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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I went to get, visit for prosthesis and I realised that the prosthesis when I did get it was very, very heavy. Because I had big breasts of course and then there was getting the bras and things like this, and I managed to find a very good mail order to get some of these pretty ones from, which made it all much better.
 
I went back to work and one of the first things I realised was how uncomfortable it was because part of my job was to rush around a lot. And I found the prosthesis was heavy but it was also, especially in the hot weather, it was uncomfortable, I was sweating.
 
So I actually got in touch with the mail order catalogue and I realised that there was another prosthesis you could buy which was really more for swimming. But it did have a heavy piece in the middle and I, so I invested in one of those which was quite cheap. And I found that much better, I didn’t have the weight on my arm and I got quite a few so I could change them regularly, although there was still this sweating bit.
Several women said that they wore a prosthesis after their mastectomy but, later, chose to have breast reconstruction.
 

Jacky found it hard to accept she had only one breast. She couldn’t wear what she wanted and the...

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 52
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I didn’t want to talk about reconstruction at that time because I’d had enough of hospitals. But I find it very hard to come to accept that I only had one breast. I hated the flat scar that I had there, I hated the fact that I couldn’t wear clothes I wanted. If I went to buy clothes, my prosthesis would fall out and I’d just pick it up and go home because I couldn’t be bothered. I longed to wear a nice swimsuit and just to feel a whole woman again. So I went, after six months, I went for another check-up and the doctor started talking to me about reconstruction.

More experiences of prostheses can be found on the Healthtalk Breast Cancer site.

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Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated July 2011

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