Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Appearance / self-image

Cancer and cancer treatment may change how your body looks, feels and performs. The following are some physical changes associated with cancer and its treatment that may impact your self-image:

  • Changes in weight (i.e., loss or gain)
  • Thinning or loss of hair
  • Changes in skin tone/color (i.e., blotchy skin) and nails
  • Physical changes from surgery (i.e., scarring, loss of limb or part of the body)
  • Changes in posture (i.e., Kyphosis, or hunchback)
  • Changes in physical performance/abilities
  • Changes in bodily/reproductive functions (i.e., incontinence, infertility)
  • Swelling in the limbs (i.e., lymphedema)

These physical changes may affect your view of yourself in different ways. You may feel self-conscious or embarrassed about your body and appearance. A good self-image may help reduce depression and anxiety and improve your emotional well-being.

Tips for improving your self-image

  • While your body may look and feel different, remember you are still the same person on the inside. Look within yourself and celebrate the person you are.
  • Understand that many changes in your appearance may be temporary and will go away after you complete treatment.
  • Experiment with ways to enhance your appearance. Use makeup, wigs, headscarves, etc. If you lose or gain weight, have your clothes altered.
  • Ask your health care team about reconstructive or cosmetic options, such as reconstructive surgery, prosthetic devices and cosmetic solutions.
  • If you are unable to participate in some of your former activities or sports, try to find new activities that interest you.
  • Prepare ahead for reactions from others. Think about how you will respond ahead of time so you are prepared to handle these situations.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Keep up with routine health and hygiene activities, practice good nutrition, and stay active. 
  • Take part in activities outside of your home. If you are physically able, get involved in activities in your community.
  • Seek support from friends, family, and other cancer survivors.

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.