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Breast Cancer Clothing: Bras, Scarves, Accessories, and More

Women with breast cancer today have a mind-boggling array of options, from wigs and scarves to specialty bras and swimsuits.
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In the Swim

Like bras, swimsuits for women who've had breast cancer have taken a great leap forward over the past several years. "The suits are out of this world," says Marianne Kelly, founder and director of the Image Recovery Center at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. "There are two-pieces, one-pieces, skirted suits, tankinis, detachable skirts, sarongs that match, and more athletic suits that fit higher at the top and provide more support."

The most up-to-date, contemporary swimsuit styling comes from a line called Anita, Sloan-Kettering's McLeod tells WebMD. "They have the most stylish, but they're also higher priced," she says. "Amoena also has a fabulous line, and we rely on them for a lot of body styles that other manufacturers don't make, like a blouson suit."

The most popular swimsuit style for women who've had a mastectomy, says McLeod, is the tankini. "When you're wearing a one-piece suit, every time you have to take it down to go to the bathroom, the breast is going with the swimsuit. Women have just snapped up the tankinis, and there is a wealth of designs in sizes from 6 to 26." Other companies making mastectomy swimsuits include It Figures, T.H.E., and Gottex.

Kelly would still like to see manufacturers offer some other options, like yoga tops. "I think it's something we'll see in the future -- more athletic and sportswear that will allow women a little more freedom about wearing prostheses and feeling confident."

From the Top Down

For women undergoing chemotherapy, hair loss can be extremely traumatic. Having the right head covering -- a great-fitting wig, a comfortable scarf that you know how to tie, or a stylish hat -- can help you feel a little more "you" and a little less "cancer patient."

Most of the time, says Kelly, women are looking for a wig that will closely resemble their own hair. "They don't want to draw attention to the change, especially in the workplace," she says.

Wigs come in several types: synthetic, 100% human hair, or a blend. True European virgin hair wigs can cost $2,000 or more, while you can buy a synthetic wig for less than $100. Most insurers will pay for a prescribed "cranial prosthesis," but probably not for the priciest of the human-hair styles.

How can you decide what kind of wig is right for you? Each style has advantages and disadvantages, in addition to price. "Synthetic wigs are wash-and-wear, and very easy to maintain," says Kelly. "On the other hand, you don't get the movement that you would with real human hair. Usually, if someone's very visible and is very concerned with people detecting that they're wearing a wig, they'll go with human hair, understanding that the maintenance and cost are a little more than with synthetic."

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