A Glen Burnie pharmacy begins offering today a product for mastectomy patients that its manufacturer says is "the wave of the future."
The product, the Discrene breast form, attaches directly to the body, making it more lifelike, said Tracy Julius, a sales representative for Coloplast, Inc.
"You can swim in it and shower in it," she said. "And you can wear regular bras, swimsuits and lingerie."
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow, Ms. Julius and Michele Owens, a pharmacist and certified fitter at Empire Pharmacy, will hold presentations and answer questions on the product at the pharmacy on Hospital Drive, across from North Arundel Hospital.
Ms. Julius said the Discrene form, a silicone breast prosthesis, first became available in the United States on a trial basis three years ago. It has been marketed more widely since late 1991.
Still, there are few outlets for the product in Maryland. Empire Pharmacy will be the third dealer to carry it. Perfectly You in Owings Mills and Northern Pharmacy in Baltimore County also carry Discrene, said Ms. Julius, who represents six states including Maryland.
Ms. Owens, who has fitted mastectomy patients for eight years, said she thinks the Discrene breast form will become very popular as more women find out about it.
"Women have not had many options," she said. After mastectomies, women generally either opt for breast reconstruction or are fitted for special bras into which a breast form is inserted, she said.
The disadvantage of traditional breast forms, she said, is that women are "somewhat limited in what they can wear."
"You always have to wear a bra," she said. "With this product, it adheres directly to your skin. You can keep it on at night, you can shower and swim with it on.
"I think it's hard for some women, at night or whatever, when they have to remove the [traditional] breast form. They feel like they've lost a part of themselves. With this, that doesn't have to happen."
Another advantage of Discrene, she said, is that since the form attaches to the chest, there is less pressure on the shoulder and neck. With traditional forms, she said, some women have complained of neck and back pain from extra weight pulling on the bra strap. Some breast prostheses can weigh as much as 10 pounds.
Mary McGraw, a Howard County resident who was fitted for Discrene at Empire two months ago after making a specific request for it, said she believes it is far superior to the traditional breast forms she has used.
"I'm really active. I play tennis and go to the athletic club," she said. "With this, since it sticks right to you, you don't have to worry about it. I feel more secure with this."
There are some limitations.
Discrene cannot be used for particularly large-breasted women because the form would be too heavy to adhere to the chest.
Also, women cannot use it while undergoing radiation therapy because the skin under the prosthesis would be too sensitive, Ms. Owens said.
But for many women, the new product is going to be a great alternative, she said. Ms. Owens fits about five new mastectomy clients a week and has about 500 clients total, since many women get refitted once a year.
The user attaches a "skin support" directly to the chest, then attaches the Discrene breast form to the support with Velcro strips. Sales representatives said the skin support strip, which should be replaced every week to 20 days, does not irritate the skin. However, after swimming, showering or working out, the form must be removed and the area underneath dried well to prevent skin irritations.
Discrene costs about $360, compared to $225 to $250 for traditional breast forms. And not all insurance companies will cover Discrene. Ms. Owens said clients have to pay first, then try to get reimbursed. Other breast forms are covered by most health insurance policies.
Ms. Julius said Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Medicare will reimburse most of the cost of Discrene in most places. Tampa, Fla.-based Coloplast, manufacturer of the product, is working with major insurance companies now to try to get them to cover the full cost.