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Redefining Mastectomy Bras to Meet Breast Cancer Patient Needs

06/24/2015 03:09 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016

If you don't know what a mastectomy bra is, it's a bra with pockets to hold a breast prosthetic in place. They're sometimes called "pocketed" bras by the lingerie brands specializing in their design and fit.

There are alternatives to buying bras made to hold breast forms. Consumers can purchase "pockets" separately and sew them into a regular bra or swimsuit. You can find stores, like Nordstrom, which will alter existing bras at no cost. A few maternity brands now feature post-mastectomy styles since they're familiar with pocketed designs to hold nursing pads.

Thanks to the Internet, start-ups can raise funds to launch new post-mastectomy lines, or reach out to potential customers from anywhere in the world.

Some 30 to 40 years ago mastectomy bras and breast forms were sold only by medical supply houses or by a handful of mastectomy boutiques. Subject to insurance reimbursement in some cases, they can create an extra nightmare of paperwork for retailers who specialize in these products. More access to post-mastectomy designs would appear to be a good thing for breast cancer patients.

But the wider availability and access to pocketed bras doesn't mean more breast cancer patients get their lingerie needs met.

Most women who undergo mastectomy procedures don't end up wearing breast forms. Over 60% have one or both breasts reconstructed, with or without implants. Others stay "flat and fabulous." Regardless of the physical outcome, these women all share a desire to wear comfortable and fashionable undergarments after their procedures.

Younger women more often choose breast reconstruction. But these procedures have little in common with a cosmetic boob job. Patients can have one or more multiple surgeries that extend over months or years. During this time, they may wear loose-fitting or compression type post-surgical bras and camisoles -- depending on treatment. Recon surgeries aren't always successful either. This time of transition needs intimate apparel that can adjust to a changing body.

Reconstructed breasts also differ from normal breast flesh. They have little movement and aren't molded and rearranged by regular bras. That's what Dana Donofree found out when she had recon after a double mastectomy and couldn't find bras for her new breasts. She found a solution by creating a new line of post-mastectomy bras. Ana Ono Intimates meets the needs of post-mastectomy patients who don't need the extra support of a prosthetic. They also work well for women who remain flat on one or both sides.

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Jill Racerback Bralette
Ana Ono Intimates


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Kelly Racerback Bralette
Ana Ono Intimates

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Sandi Front Closure Wireless Bra
Ana Ono Intimates


Our understanding of breast cancer has evolved over the past half century. The way post-mastectomy lingerie is sold and marketed should also change. Some products will include pockets, some not, or no cups at all. It's time to re-define the term "post-mastectomy" to meet the lingerie and swimwear needs of all breast cancer patients.

What do you think? Would it help to change the definition of mastectomy bras? Do you know of other lingerie brands making a difference to breast cancer patients?

This post originally published on The Breast Life.

All photos used by permission and copyright of Tracy Birdsell for AnaOno.