Women who have been diagnosed with cancer in one or both breasts or who have a high statistical risk for cancer sometimes opt to have their breast(s) removed by surgery. This surgery is called a mastectomy and may range from simple to total. The surgery might be relatively simple, where the breast tissue alone may be removed, or it may be more extensive, where the lymph nodes and muscle under the breast are removed.
A study published in the journal Cancer found that, in New York State alone, the number of women who had a double mastectomy after discovering cancer in one breast more than doubled between 1995 and 2005, increasing from 295 to 683 during that time.
Having a part of the body removed brings on many changes. Some women feel liberated by the thought of being cancer-free. Others mourn the loss of a part of their identity and femininity. Whatever the case, after some of the physical healing takes place, women must adapt to a new body.
Many women who have undergone a mastectomy find that using a breast form -- a type of prosthesis -- can make feeling more confident possible. These forms may be attached directly to the breast wall with a bit of skin-safe adhesive or fit inside of a bra. Some mastectomy bras are also built with the form already in the cups, similar to a padded bra.
It is important when choosing a bra to be sure it is supportive and firm-fitting to alleviate the risk of gapping or the breast form shifting or coming out entirely. There are stores that specialize in post-mastectomy bra fittings and prostheses to help navigate the new world of these products.
After a well-fitting bra and breast form is selected, a woman can start shopping for clothing. Many prostheses can be purchased to mimic the size and shape of the original breast. Then existing clothing in one’s closet may fit and little new shopping is needed. However, scarring or perceived attention to the area may cause some women to feel anxious. Following these tips can help.
Avoid form-fitting tops that draw attention to the bust.
Look for scoop or boat neck shirts instead of deep V-neck tops.
Choose shirts and dresses with sleeves or thick straps to cover a supportive bra.
Select solid-color tops paired with print skirts to draw the eye away from the top half of the body.
When selecting a swimsuit, look for styles that are cut high under the arms and at the neckline. Athletic styles are usually higher-cut.
Use accessories like shawls or shrugs to cover up perceived problem areas.
Layer clothing, like a vest over a shirt.
Splurge on a lacy bra to help you feel more feminine and sexy.
Realize that problem areas may be noticeable only to you. Others may not detect by outward appearances that you even had surgery.
Avoid boxy or oversized shirts, which will only broadcast that you’re trying to hide something.