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Bra or No Bra? Navigating the Publish-Mastectomy World

If you’re like most women, you’ve probably been wearing a bra since you were young. But now . . . If your breast or breasts have been lost to breast cancer, you may be wondering if you need to continue. And what if you had a rebuild?

These are all good questions.

Immediately after surgery, your surgeon may suggest a post-op bra, which in some cases contains ice packs to help reduce swelling. Your health insurance company should pay for it.

If you haven’t decided on a reconstruction, you may want a bra with a breast prosthesis. This foam, silicone or fiber filling insert gives clothes the appearance of a natural breast. If you decide on a prosthesis, it should be adapted for you. This should also be covered by your insurance (it can take up to two months to receive the prosthesis). The prosthesis can also be attached to your body using adhesive pads or even magnets.

An important reason for choosing a prosthesis is that it keeps your body in balance. Otherwise, back, shoulder or neck problems can occur. It also keeps you warm. Some women complain that their surgical site is always cold, probably due to the loss of nerves in that area.

Before we start shopping for bras, you should know that you have one other option – go braless! Some women just feel more comfortable without a bra, especially those who have been reconstructed with implants and find that their breasts are stronger than they have been for years.

But if braless isn’t for you, then it’s time to do some bra shopping. If you’ve chosen not to have a reconstruction, your previous bras won’t fit (or feel right). If you’ve had a reconstruction, your breasts may be smaller, larger, or a different shape than the old ones. You may also have lost or gained weight during treatment, which can change breast size.

When buying a bra, consider your own physical condition. A style that closes in front may be easier to put on and take off, especially soon after surgery. Choose something soft and non-committal, especially if you’re receiving radiation therapy, which can make your skin sensitive to touch. If you have lymphedema (swelling of your arms from the removal of lymph nodes), tight bra straps can be uncomfortable. Women often cite comfort as an important feature of any bra after a mastectomy.

A bra can also be important to you if you have had nipple protection. Many women find that their nipples stay upright after surgery because the nipple nerves have been severed. A well-padded bra can hide this.

If you wear a bra after a mastectomy, you may have a hard time finding one. Do yourself a favor. Make an appointment for a professional fitting in a lingerie or department store. There are even stores that specialize in bras and other clothing for women who have had a mastectomy (check with your surgeon or breast cancer support group for recommendations).

The last thing you need now is an uncomfortable bra!

This resource was created with the assistance of Allergan.


National Cancer Institute: Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Breast prostheses and bras for cancer patients

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