Many cancer patients have physical changes that affect body image, such as hair loss, scarring, weight loss or gain, skin changes, and swelling in the face or limbs. Any of these changes can affect one's body image and self-confidence. Some changes may be permanent. However, most treatment-related side effects that affect appearance are temporary. Sharing your feelings about these changes is very important. Friends, family, and support groups can help patients manage their feelings and concerns.
Call the doctor or nurse if any of these symptoms occur:
- A skin rash or inflammation
- Sadness, anger, or loss of interest in life because of changes in appearance
- Loss of desire to care for one's self
What patients can do:
- Contact the Wellness-Survivorship Center to learn about classes and programs.
- Express feelings to family members, friends, nurses, or a social worker.
- Find a support group, Internet blog, or social media website to connect with others who have had similar experiences and to learn ways to cope.
- Laugh! Humor is a very healthy way to cope. Be around people who are funny and uplifting, and watch funny movies and TV shows. HCI's Cancer Learning Center has several humorous books and videos available for check out.
- Focus on what you like about yourself. Try to maintain a positive self-image.
Alopecia (Hair Loss)
- Be prepared by having hats, scarves, or wigs on hand before losing hair. Hair loss often begins two to three weeks after starting chemotherapy. Head coverings help keep the body warm, as well as helping your body image.
- Not all chemotherapy patients lose their hair. For those that do, hair loss is temporary.
- Visit the Cancer Learning Center to learn about coping with hair loss and other changes related to cancer.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Bright or bold colors can help you look and feel better.
- Avoid any clothing that may rub against a chemotherapy catheter in the arm or port in the chest.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments can cause skin changes such as dryness, itching, sensitivity to sunburns, and brittle nails. These tend to get better once treatment stops.
- Tell the doctor or nurse about any rash or inflammation that develops.
- Use a moisturizer to help skin stay moist.
- Use alcohol-free skin care products.
- Wear sunscreen or protective clothing when outside.
- Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress and fatigue and to improve overall well-being. Exercise specialists in the Wellness-Survivorship Center can create an exercise plan tailored to each patient's ability and needs. The center offers programs and classes for patients and their families.