Understanding Your Options for Breast Forms
An increasing number of women are skipping breast reconstruction surgery after mastectomy to remove one or both breasts and going flat instead, according to a study. 1 At times, some women who decide to go flat want to look like they have breasts in certain situations, so they wear breast forms (or breast prostheses).
There are many types of breast forms.
Silicone breast forms look and feel like breasts to many people. You may be interested in this type of breast form if you’d like balance after a mastectomy that removes one breast only (also called single or unilateral mastectomy).
Some women prefer lightweight breast forms that give some shape to the chest, but are more like removable breast pads — such as the ones that come with some bathing suit tops. These breast forms are typically made of foam, polyurethane, or polyester and can be slipped inside a mastectomy bra with pockets. You can get breast forms at places like Athleta, AnaOno, and The Busted Tank. Often fairly inexpensive, lightweight breast forms are washable and easy to wear and replace. Many women say these types of breast forms are comfortable during exercise when slipped inside a pocketed sports bra or athletic top.
Types of breast forms
There are three main types of breast forms: leisure forms, silicone forms, and custom-made forms.Learn more
What to expect from a certified mastectomy fitter
A certified mastectomy fitter is a healthcare professional who has completed training in how to fit women for breast forms.Learn more
Caring for your breast forms
All breast forms come with instructions for how to best care for them. You can hand-wash some non-silicone forms with mild soap and let them air-dry, depending on what they’re made of. Some breast forms also come with removable covers that you can hand-wash.
Some silicone breast forms include cleaning kits with non-abrasive wipes and mild soaps that are safe to use on silicone. Certified mastectomy fitters can offer advice on which store-bought soaps or cleaners are safe to use. Breast forms with adhesive backings have special cleaning instructions to ensure they retain their stickiness as long as possible.
It’s also a good idea to hand-wash mastectomy bras in mild soap and lay them flat to dry, just as you would other delicate lingerie.
Health insurance coverage for breast forms
The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 is a federal law requiring health insurance companies that cover mastectomy to also cover breast reconstruction and breast forms. 2 Certainly, most health insurance plans offer coverage for breast forms and mastectomy bras — with a doctor’s prescription. Some health plans even cover more than one type of breast form if you need it. But it’s important to know that health plans don’t necessarily cover every type of breast form available. You also need a doctor’s prescription every time you wish to replace your breast form.
Even if health plans cover mastectomy bras, they generally don’t cover other garments, such as pocketed bathing suits, camisoles, lingerie tops, or athletic tops. It’s helpful to check your health plan’s website or to speak with a representative so you have a clear understanding of what your plan covers.
Regardless of what your health plan covers, you are responsible for any co-pays and deductibles. It’s a good idea to keep records of any bills or charges so you can refer to them when communicating with your health insurance company.
Medicare does not cover custom-made breast forms. But you may be able to get coverage for custom-made forms if you have a supplemental insurance plan. 3 Although coverage varies by health plan, Medicare, Medicaid, and most commercial health insurance plans do typically cover the following:
two to four mastectomy bras per year
a new silicone breast form every two years
a foam or other non-silicone breast form every six months
Most health insurance companies cover future breast reconstruction surgery. Still, it’s a good idea to make sure that getting health coverage for a breast form doesn’t limit your choices for reconstruction surgery, especially in the same year. 4
If you are concerned about cost — including co-pays and meeting your plan’s annual deductible — you may want to ask your medical team if they can recommend sources for financial assistance. There is also an organization called Knitted Knockers that provides knitted, stuffed breast forms free of charge.
Written by: Kristine Conner, contributing writer
Baker JL, Dizon DS, Wenziger CM, et al. “Going Flat” After Mastectomy: Patient-Reported Outcomes by Online Survey. Ann Surg Oncol. 2021. 28(5):2493-2505. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1245/s10434-020-09448-9" https://doi.org/10.1245/s10434-020-09448-9
U.S. Department of Labor. Women’s Health and Cancer Rights. Available at: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/health-plans/womens
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA). Available at: https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Programs-and-Initiatives/Other-Insurance-Protections/whcra_factsheet
American Cancer Society. Breast Reconstruction Alternatives. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/reconstruction-surgery/breast-reconstruction-alternatives.html
— Last updated on July 29, 2022, 2:50 PM