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How do breast forms and bras compare to breast reconstruction?

Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery

Breast forms or supportive brassieres are an external device that may be useful to compliment the asymmetry that occurs after a mastectomy. However, breast reconstruction allows for a final permanent result without the use of external false products. Breast reconstruction may include tissue expanders, silicone or saline implantation with or without autologous muscle transfer or microvascular transplantation of free flaps in order to reconstruct the breast. The most common flaps include the latissimus dorsi flap with muscle taken from the back with a skin paddle or the TRAM flap (transverse rectus myocutaneous flap) taken from the abdomen as in an abdominoplasty and raised to the breast for reconstruction.

After mastectomy (or breast-conserving surgery in some cases), a woman may consider having the breast mound rebuilt, or reconstructed. This is usually something that is discussed before surgery to treat the cancer. Decisions about the type of reconstruction and when it will be done depend on each woman's medical situation and personal preferences. There are several types of reconstructive surgery available. Some use saline (salt water) or silicone implants, while others use tissues from other parts of your body. For a discussion of the different breast reconstruction options, see the American Cancer Society document, Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy, available by calling 1-800-227-2345 or at www.cancer.org. 
A breast form is a prosthesis (artificial body part) worn either inside a bra or attached to the body to mimic the appearance and feel of a natural breast. For women who have had a mastectomy, breast forms can be an important alternative to breast reconstruction. Some women may not want more surgery, knowing that breast reconstruction can sometimes require several procedures to complete.
If you are planning on using a breast form, your doctor will tell you when you have healed enough to be fitted for a permanent breast form or prosthesis. Most of these forms are made from materials that mimic the movement, feel, and weight of natural tissue. A properly weighted form provides the balance your body needs for correct posture and anchors your bra, keeping it from riding up. At first, these forms may feel too heavy, but in time they will feel natural. Prices vary considerably. High price doesn't necessarily mean that the product is the best for you. Take time to shop for a good fit, comfort, and an attractive, natural appearance in the bra and under clothing. Your clothes should fit the way they did before surgery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.