Many women choose, or may be advised, not to have immediate breast reconstruction surgery after having a mastectomy and decide instead to wear a breast prosthesis (breast form). This aims to restore the appearance of having a breasts when fully clothed.
Some women may have significant asymmetry after breast conservation surgery and may require a partial prosthesis to restore a balanced appearance.
What kinds of external breast prostheses are available?
A temporary prosthesis is a pocket filled with soft, fluffy material and can be used while your wound is healing and until you're ready for a permanent prosthesis.
A permanent prosthesis is a silicone form which fits into a pocket in your mastectomy bra. The prosthesis is specifically fitted to resemble the shape and weight of the breast.
Attachable silicone nipples and prostheses for swimming costumes are also available.
Prostheses may also be made of foam for occasions when women don't want to be wearing their full-weight prostheses.
How much do they cost?
The Ministry of Health currently offers a subsidy for a prosthesis and other related products (e.g. pocketed mastectomy bras and swimwear) after surgery for breast cancer. Visit Ministry of Health's Prosthesis and Bra Subsidy for more information or read the Breast Prosthesis Service Payments fact sheet here.
The current subsidy is $613.33, per side for a four year period. At the end of your entitlement period any unspent amount will be cancelled and another four-year entitlement of $613.33 per side will be credited. You do not need another certificate for subsequent claims. The subsidy is available to New Zealand citizens and those ordinarily residing in New Zealand. It will cover the cost of the following:
• Breast prostheses or breast forms (these may include standard breast forms, swim form, foam filler, shell prosthesis, and lumpectomy shells)
• Pocketed bras to hold the breast prosthesis
• Surgical bras and modification of normal bras or swimwear to hold a prosthesis
• Prosthetic nipples
To claim the subsidy you will need a Medical Certificate with your NHI number and details of the surgical procedure (date and side) from your breast cancer specialist or breastcare nurse.
When you have chosen your prosthesis and/or special bras, the supplier or stockist will make the claim to HealthPac for you, or you can make it yourself if you prefer. If the cost of your products is over the subsidy limit, then you will need to pay the balance. The supplier or stockist will give you receipts for your products and it's a good idea to put these somewhere safe so you can keep track of your subsidy and know when you are eligible to claim again.
First consultation and fitting
Here are some useful questions and the names of specialist fitters who may be located in your area, or visit your area regularly.They will guide and advise you on the fitting and purchase of your prosthesis and bras. Should you require any further help or advice, call the NZBCF on freephone BCNURSE (0800 226 8773)
Questions to ask after surgery
• Do I need to wear a breast prosthesis?
• What kind of prosthesis would suit me best?
• When can I start wearing a breast form?
• How will wearing or not wearing a prosthesis affect my lymphoedema?
• What if I find the breast form too heavy or I have other problems?
• How long might it take to get used to the prosthesis?
• Do I need to buy mastectomy bras or can I use regular ones?
Knitted Knockers is a voluntary organisation whose members knit lightweight breast forms and supply them free of charge to women around New Zealand.
Contact Marie Hindmarsh on (09) 473 5888 or Christina Koyle on (09) 473 6622
Or, if you'd like to make your own, find the instructions here.
• Breast Cancer Network Australia http://www.bcna.org.au
• Cancer Society Australia http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/
• Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC). ‘Step by Step' Information. 2nd ed., pp.39-43. Published by BCAC. www.breastcancer.org.nz