Learn about how cancer and cancer treatment can change physical appearance.
Nearly every cancer patient experiences body image concerns, and many would like to receive additional support and guidance to help them cope with these issues.
Body image is more than how you view your appearance or a mental picture of what you look like. It refers to the way you perceive, think and feel about all aspects of your body and the way it functions.
Your body image can change over time and is influenced by what you are experiencing in the moment. While there may be a significant difference between how you view your body and how others perceive it, your personal views and feelings about your body are what matters.
For cancer patients, body image is a critical issue. Their disease and its treatment can alter their appearance and how their bodies function.
Common body image concerns for cancer patients and survivors include:
- Loss of an arm or leg
- Using a prosthesis
- Swollen limbs (lymphedema)
- Skin discoloration
- Hair loss
- Tooth loss
- Sensory changes (neuropathy)
- Bowel/bladder incontinence
- Sexual dysfunction
- Weight loss or gain
- Loss of mobility
- Alterations to speech, swallowing, eyesight or hearing
As a result of such changes, patients can suffer depression, anxiety, withdrawal and social isolation. Many patients, both male and female, are reluctant to talk about such personal and private issues, even with loved ones.
MD Anderson offers various resources to help patients cope with body image changes as well as other social and emotional stressors related to cancer and its treatment. These services are offered by Social Work and in our Integrative Medicine, Psychiatry and Supportive Care centers. Some of these services may require a referral from your physician.