First softies in range of skin tones launched by Royal Marsden clinicians for breast cancer patients

Sarah Adomah and Natalie Johnson holding softies in various skin tones

The UK’s first softies in a variety of skin tones have been launched today (Monday 3 October) by clinicians from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Nubian Skin, following funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. This news comes at the start of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Black History Month 

A softie is a lightweight fabric prosthesis that women with breast cancer are often provided after a mastectomy to wear in their bra. Some women use a softie temporarily before reconstructive surgery, while others wear one before using a permanent silicon prosthesis. However, many women use their softie long-term, as they can be more comfortable than other options.

Despite their wide use, a survey of 100 women of colour by Black Women Rising – a project that aims to raise awareness of cancer amongst people of colour, advocates for their needs and provides support - revealed that nearly three quarters (74%) of those who use a softie, prosthetic breast or nipple were not offered one to match their skin tone. 

Following these results, along with feedback from patients, including from The Royal Marsden, Natalie Johnson, a Breast and Oncoplastic Surgeon at The Royal Marsden, and Sarah Adomah, Lead Breast Clinical Nurse Specialist at the hospital, approached Nubian Skin to create in partnership a range of new, more inclusive softie covers to help improve the care women of colour receive following a mastectomy. 

Nubian Skin is a lingerie and hosiery brand specialising in skin-tone products for women of colour and, using their expertise, developed these covers with Royal Marsden clinicians. The products come in seven sizes of four colours: Berry, Cinnamon, Caramel and Café Au Lait.

The products are currently just available for Royal Marsden patients, but clinicians hope to eventually roll them out more widely across the UK. 

Sarah Adomah, Lead Breast Clinical Nurse Specialist at The Royal Marsden said: “For many women, having a mastectomy is incredibly traumatic and being given a softie in an inappropriate skin tone can make the experience even more upsetting. Ensuring that all breast cancer patients are given a softie that’s right for them is vital and I’m so proud to have helped bridge this gap in care.”

Natalie Johnson, Breast and Oncoplastic Surgeon at The Royal Marsden, said: “We are extremely grateful to our partner Nubian Skin for making this range a reality and to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity for supporting this project. We’ve just produced our first batch of inclusive softies which are being issued to breast cancer patients following surgery at The Royal Marsden. We hope this range, which is a true representation of patient-centred care, will eventually be distributed in all cancer centres in the UK.”

Veronica Parke, 64 from London, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2020 and had a mastectomy in March 2021 at The Royal Marsden. After originally being given a softie that didn’t match her skin tone, she recently became one of the first women to receive this new product.

Veronica said: “I was too ill to have my breast reconstructed immediately after surgery, and I thought having a softie would compensate. However, the product I was initially offered, which was as pale as can be, didn’t match my skin tone, so I didn’t use it. This affected how I dressed, and I wore everything loose so people couldn’t see my shape.  

“After a mastectomy, you can feel disfigured, and you want something that helps you feel normal again. It felt really good to be given my new softie and I wore it for the first time a few days later when my daughters took me out for a birthday meal. It was lovely being able to wear clothes more my size as the softie blends in so well with my skin tone. It was also exciting to see that there are now not just one, but four new shades, so many more women can benefit.   

“I hope these new products will boost the confidence of more women with breast cancer, like me, after surgery and help with the healing process.”

Ade Hassan, MBE, the founder of Nubian skin, said: “Breast cancer is a disease that has affected my family and family members of the Nubian Skin team, so when I was approached by Natalie about this project, I knew instantly that I wanted to help in any way that I could. It has been an honour for Nubian Skin to work with The Royal Marsden to create these softie covers, and to help in a small way in the recovery of the women who are dealing with an often life-changing diagnosis”. 

Leanne Pero, Founder of Black Women Rising, said: “In the support groups I run for people of colour affected by cancer, time and time again I’ve heard from women so disappointed that they weren’t given a softie that matches their skin tone after surgery. I’m overjoyed that this project has been developed and, in the future, I’d love to see these products available for women across the UK and beyond.”