Living With the Physical Changes Caused By Cancer

Apr 23 • 2015

Having cancer can cause your body to change physically, both from the disease itself and the treatment. For some people, dealing with these changes can be difficult because of the impact they have on self-esteem. Finding a way to cope with these side effects and develop confidence is an important step in the healing process.

What Physical Changes Might I Experience?

There are both short-term and long-term changes in appearance that cancer and its associated treatments may cause.

Short-term effects include:

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Swelling of the limbs
  • Hair loss from chemotherapy

Permanent changes you may notice include:

  • Skin discoloration from radiation
  • Scars from biopsies or surgeries
  • Markings from mapping out radiation treatment
  • Surgically created openings in the abdomen called stomas that allow waste to empty from the body
  • Mastectomy or limb loss

Signs of Body Image Issues
Many times the changes that others don’t notice still feel obvious to the person suffering from them. You may feel self-conscious or embarrassed, like everyone is looking at you. This can become a bigger issue if someone reacts to your physical changes in a negative way.

You may be having issues with your body image if you:

  • Are hesitant to go out in public
  • Have no interest in dating or meeting new people
  • Avoid intimacy with your partner
  • Feel embarrassed over hair loss, weight change, etc.
  • Are afraid to undress in front of anyone
  • Hide scars from your loved ones

How Can I Cope?
There are many steps you can take to become more comfortable in your skin. First, make sure you’re getting proper nutrition, sleep, and regular exercise. This will improve your mood and your appearance.

Additionally, you can address body image issues by:

  • Talking to other cancer survivors for advice
  • Going to therapy
  • Coming up with responses to provide when people ask questions about how you look
  • Understanding that surviving cancer has made you stronger

You can also change your appearance by finding a wig, using a prosthetic breast, changing your look, or speaking with your doctor about skin care.

Remember that your loved ones are there to support you during and after your cancer treatment. Reach out to loved ones for comfort use the advice above to begin your post-cancer journey with confidence.