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Mastectomy Swimsuits and Forms

Updated on May 8, 2017
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Middle-aged women are forgotten about by retailers. I offer help with clothing choices, skincare, and healthy eating for the mature woman.

Mastectomy Swimwear
Mastectomy Swimwear

Swimming After Breast Surgery

If you've had a mastectomy or lumpectomy, you may be concerned about wearing a swimsuit and heading out to the beach or the pool. Let me put your mind at ease because there are many women, myself included, who have had surgery but are back in the water.

In 2008, I had two surgeries to remove cancerous cells, followed by a course of radiation therapy. During the final appointment with the consultant, his nurse, also a breast cancer survivor, made sure I realized the risk of sun exposure on the treated area. Because of the radiation therapy, I would be more susceptible to sunburn. The fact that I was moving to the tropics with a UV index in the extreme category had her concerned. It is for this reason that I wear a swimsuit that comes up high. Although I don't wear a prosthesis, mastectomy swimsuits have a pocket for one.

Like all bathing suits, if you plan to swim in it instead of just enjoying time on the beach, it has to be comfortable. Here are my tips for finding a post-mastectomy swimsuit that will be a joy to wear and get you back in the pool.

Returning to the pool after surgery
Returning to the pool after surgery | Source

Try on Post-Mastectomy Swimwear

I can't stress this enough, you have to feel comfortable both physically and mentally in your new bathing suit. Try your suit on with your prosthesis in place, and look at yourself in the mirror. The pocket on some might need a slight adjustment to keep your breast form in place.

It still amazes me how many people try on clothing, bathing suits included, and don't move around in them. When you try shoes on, you walk around the shoe store a bit to see if they are comfortable and to get the feel for them. This is the same thing you need to be doing with your new swimsuit. Lift your arms above your head, pretend you are swimming, imitate the crawl. Did you feel any chafing or rubbing? Was your prosthesis moving around? Don't forget about your legs, lift your knees up to see if there is excessive tightness there, you want it snug but not cutting off your circulation. Bend over and touch your knees, does it ride up on you? There is nothing worse, and we've all done it, than getting out of a pool and pulling your bathing suit out of your backside.

Don't think you're restricted to a one piece granny styled swimsuit because you've had breast surgery, you aren't. There are many options available to you including tankinis and bikinis. I personally love a one piece suit and have been wearing them since I was 16. To me, they seem more elegant. Although I've worn bikinis, and tankinis, I keep coming back to a one piece. All of the swimsuits which are labeled as mastectomy styles will have a pocket for a breast form. Plus with the bikini top, there is often a wide piece of fabric across the chest. Don't think your choices of swimwear are limited, many manufacturers now realize this is a large market.

Krinkle MASTECTOMY BRA High Neck Tank Storm 10
Krinkle MASTECTOMY BRA High Neck Tank Storm 10

I love this suit for a few different reasons, the higher cut around the neck gives me protection in the radiation area. Plus with a higher back clasp, the straps stay put. Although this says it's chlorine resistant, I can't vouch for that because almost all of my swimming is either in our lake or at the beach.

I also love the longer line on the leg, it keeps the suit in place.

 

Best Types of Mastectomy Swimsuits

They type of suit you choose will most likely be down to the activity you do when wearing it. If you love to swim laps, I prefer a racer back as the straps stay put and don't impede the movement of the stroke.

If you prefer water aerobics, although a racer back would still work admirably for this, also one which is a keyhole opening at the back. I love this type as it shows a bit of the back. Again for the water aerobics, you need to think about the full range of movements. A mastectomy bathing suit is often cut high into the armpit to help keep the breast form in place, check for any rubbing.

If you plan to sun yourself on a lounger and read a book, you need to think about the tan line your suit will be leaving. If the straps are too thick you may get lines you don't want if you then decide to wear a sundress. However, you should check with your doctor to see if any of the treatment you received is going to leave you susceptible to problems as the result of too much sun exposure. This could be radiation therapy, chemotherapy or biological therapy.

Clasps and Closures on Your Swimwear

What is the closure on your bathing suit? You may never have thought about it before but now, it could be a concern for you. Although your prosthesis will be in a pocket, you don't want it to come out if the suit should come unhooked. Another thing to think about, especially if your hair is shoulder length or longer, clasps which are at the neck can catch on your hair. I have long hair and although I pull it up, there are some pesky strands which can wrap around a clasp. I can't stand wearing a swimming cap so opt to just pull my hair up whenever possible.

Swimwear Fabrics and Patterns

Although you may think that all swimwear is made of the same material, they aren't. There are also some which are more resistant to chlorine making it an excellent choice if the majority of your swimming is in pools.

Cotton, although a wonderful summery fabric, isn't great at repelling the sun and after living in the tropics, I can tell you, the sun destroys it. Chlorine is also hard on cotton. In my experience, if you love cotton and want a swimsuit made out of it, opt for a cotton blend.

Post-mastectomy bathing suits which have Lycra are the best in my opinion. Because they fit securely and allow easy movement.

The choice of printed or plain swimwear is down to personal preference, however, if you are opting for a sleek plain colored line, your prosthesis may show more. If you are comfortable with that, then it's okay, some women prefer to keep it private and others are quite happy to flash their scars around the changing room. A fabric which is printed or patterned is less likely to highlight the fact you're wearing a prosthesis or if you opt to swim without it, a gap in the fabric. Don't just think it is patterned fabric as textured fabric is also a popular way to mask it. Be aware, a textured fabric will slow you down in the water, but if you are out there for the exercise and not to break a personal best, it probably doesn't matter to you.

Choosing a Breast Prosthesis for Swimming

Before heading out to the pool or beach, check to see if your prosthesis is recommended for use in a swimming pool. Chlorine may have a negative effect. There are some available which are designed to be used in the water and are unaffected by chlorine. Also, transparent ones are best as they won't show an unnatural color when wet. Choosing the correct breast form for swimming will depend on your particular surgery and on how much tissue you had removed.

Here are some of the shapes to consider:

  • Heart Shaped: If your surgery didn't remove any tissue from under the arm or the collarbone, a heart shape form may be just what you're looking for. This versatile shape will fill the cup without feeling bulky.

  • Teardrop: If your surgery did remove surrounding tissue from under the arm and near the collarbone, the teardrop shape is likely to suit you. Most manufacturers offer optional extensions which can be adjusted to get the perfect fit.
  • Triangular: For those whose surgery removed only a smaller portion of tissue but still left a void. This form is best-suited for younger women whose underlying pectoral muscles are still firm.
  • Asymmetrical: Because no two women are the same, asymmetrical shapes give a variety of options. If you've had underarm tissue removed, an asymmetrical form can help you fill in the gaps to get a smooth look.

It's important to remember, no woman has symmetrical breasts whether they have had surgery or not.

Which type of post-mastectomy swimwear do you prefer?

See results

Final Thoughts

Check with your doctor to see when you can safely return to the pool.

If you feel self-conscious about going to a public swimming pool or to the beach, go with people you feel comfortable with, friends and family are there to support you. Remember, others don't know you have had surgery unless you tell them.

Although you may feel like people are looking at you, they aren't they are too interested in their own lives.

You may feel stiffness when swimming which wasn't there before. Some will be due to the surgery and scars and some due to the inactivity. If it is difficult, just keep at it and keep swimming and soon you'll settle into a confident and comfortable routine.

© 2017 Mary Wickison

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    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 3 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Shauna,

      Firstly, thank you, I was fortunate to catch a lump very early.

      I had to laugh, I think all women look at themselves in a suit and think about how fat we look in it. Or any bits that can't be tucked in discreetly.

      There is nothing worse than a suit that rubs because when it's wet it can rub you raw. Because I am known to go through the movements in the dressing room, I avoid stores with tiny dressing rooms. Online shopping allows me to get a good feel for it and if those tags stay on they will take it back.

      Thanks for reading and your kind words.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 months ago from Central Florida

      Mary, first I'd like to congratulate you on being a cancer survivor.

      This article is so important for those who have had surgery and need some fashion advice. I found it very informative in general, particularly your tips on various movements to make when trying on swimwear. I don't think I've ever done anything other than look at the suit to see whether or not it makes me look fat!

      Great article!

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Dora, I hope women who are feeling doubtful will find the courage to return to swimming.

      Thanks for reading.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Mary, you answer all the questions. Thanks for this very thoughtful article.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Audrey,

      For women who love swimming and those who just feel self- conscious after their surgery, I hope this article helps. There are now many more options available for swimwear.

      Thanks for your kind words.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Bill,

      Now there is much more support and understanding than previously. I think most of it has to do with the confidence of the woman.

      Great to hear from you.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 months ago from California

      Well this is a wonderfully life affirming article Mary! Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Very important information, Mary. Raising awareness is so important in overcoming the stigma of something like this...well done, my friend, and Happy Sunday to you.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Louise,

      I think much of the 'taboo' of breast cancer has been lifted due mainly to the Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns. It seems everywhere you look, you see pink ribbons.

      This, of course, has the manufacturers seeing a new market open up. There are so many beautiful mastectomy swimsuits being made it's fantastic.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 4 months ago from Norfolk, England

      There's some useful information there. I had no idea there was such a variety. Thanks for sharing this. =)