Center helping women maintain body image after mastectomy

Published on Monday, 11 August 2014 15:02 - Written by

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East Texas Medical Center’s Breast Care Center is making it possible for women to have access to a prosthetic bra at no charge. It’s a new campaign that allows women the chance to adjust to a new life following a mastectomy.

Long after a breast cancer diagnosis, survivors don’t automatically wash their hands of the disease. It leaves reminders, which in some cases include continued medications, physical scars and body image issues.

Many women opt for reconstructive surgery and in recent years, it has increased among women who receive a mastectomy.

According to a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reconstructive surgery grew from 43 percent to 63 percent between 1998 and 2007.

However, the procedure is not always immediate or recommended. Some women opt for a breast prosthesis as they forgo an additional surgery or wait to receive one.

A breast prosthesis is an artificial breast form that can be worn after a mastectomy. It helps balance the body and can prevent back and neck pain and protect surgical incisions.

Dianne Adelfio, vice president of operations for ETMC’s Cancer Institute, said most women who’ve had a mastectomy chose to get fitted for a prosthetic. The bras and prostheses can be covered by insurance, but otherwise one can cost $150 or more.

“The problem is, a lot of insurances won’t pay for these devices so women look for other alternatives,” Ms. Adelfio said. “That’s why we’re very happy to support this program. This gives the women in our community the opportunity to have access to these bras that they may otherwise not have access to and can’t afford.”

American Cancer Society once received funding for a prostheses program, but could no longer support it. ACS officials handed over the inventory of bras to the ETMC Breast Care Center earlier this year.



It’s been nearly 20 years since Mildred Sharp, of Lindale, first was fitted for a breast prosthesis.

Insurance would no longer pay for the prostheses where she’d been receiving them, and this spring, she received one through the ETMC program.

Mrs. Sharp, 85, had a mastectomy on her left breast and decided against reconstruction early on.

“When I had the operation, I got an infection so I was laid up for a really long time,” she said. “At that point, I just did not feel like going under a knife again.”

She’s comfortable with the breast form but admits it wasn’t always that way.

“In the beginning, I was very self-conscious,” Mrs. Sharp said. “I didn’t dare go without one. I was just mortified if anybody saw me without it. If someone hugged me, I always wondered, ‘Can they feel the difference?’”

Ms. Adelfio also said women recovering from breast cancer deal with issues not related to physical health.

“Surgery is a difficult thing for anyone to go through, but when you’ve lost a body part after surgery, women often do end up having self-image concerns because they don’t look the same,” she said. “They don’t feel the same any longer. It’s as if they’ve lost a part of who they were. These prosthetic bras give them an opportunity to regain something that they’ve lost.”

Women can make an appointment or walk in with “no questions asked,” Ms. Adelfio said.

Women do not have to be an ETMC patient.

The special mastectomy bras range in size from 32AA to 48DD. The collection of bras comes in various sizes, styles and colors.

For more information, contact the ETMC Breast Care Center at 903-596-3164.