Body Image and Cancer Patients

We are going to talk about a topic that is very sensitive with respect to cancer patients and that is Body Image. If you have experienced changes due to treatment or cancer you know what we are talking about in this article. Many cancer patients experience a variety of physical changes during their treatment or due to cancer. Understanding how the disease and the treatment can affect body image and play an instrumental role in making you feel confident and well equipped to deal with the experience.


A young child not apprehensive about his body image.

A young child not apprehensive about his body image.

Cancer and its treatment may result in multiple physical changes amongst the patients. These physical changes may vary from case to case. The way a survivor chooses to react to these physical changes may not be similar. While acceptance of these issues may be an issue with some patients, others may look at it as a temporary phase and think that these physical changes do not really matter. Let us start by understanding what is body image?

What is Body Image?

Body image is how you feel about your appearance. Once again, it is how you feel about your appearance even if other people might have a different perception about you. A negative body image can set a chain of negative emotions – anxiety, being self conscious, shame, insecurity, uncertainty. A poor body image may make you feel you that your size, the shape, the surgery makes you unattractive for other people.

Changes – Temporary, Permanent

Physical changes can be difficult for a patient to accept especially in these times and societies where appearance is so important for. Changes can be temporary or permanent; the effect of temporary changes may linger much beyond the change itself. Hair loss, weight issues (gain or loss) are examples of changes that are temporary; amputations, scars, changes in complexion, infertility and permanent stomas are examples of permanent changes.

While others may not be able to see these changes, these still may have an impact on your feelings about yourself for body image has nothing to do with how others look at you but is all about how you look at yourself. Issues with body image may arise even in those cases where no physical changes are experienced are your body may look exactly like it did before.

Signs of a Poor Body Image

Some of the signs of a poor body image are

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  • Apprehension about leaving the house for people would look at you;
  • Shying away from intimacy with partner;
  • Shying away from undressing in front of a partner;
  • Avoiding the mirror;
  • Not letting your partner see your scars;
  • Feeling unattractive because of weight gain or loss.

The why behind body image

Cancer and its treatment does not affect all survivors in the same way. For some even small changes may seem overwhelming.  The physical changes that you experience may not allow you to work or indulge in things that you enjoy doing. This can be difficult situation to accept.

Another thing that affects body image is how others react to you. Not everyone has dealt with people who are survivors or are receiving treatment. Reactions from some may cause discomfort, feelings of hurt which may trigger negatives emotions towards your body image. Definitely this may not be easy to handle.

 Once the treatment ends, nearly all survivors want their life to return to the normal while this may not be possible for all. A physical change may be a constant reminder of what you have been through and how life is going to be different from what it was. Here again, what you think about yourself and what you have been through will determine how normal your life would be after treatment. With time how you feel about yourself may change and body image may improve.

 A very important question that needs to be answered at this stage is – if body image does not change during or immediately after the treatment is it still possible that it may change later on?

Well yes, feelings of poor body image may take over you any time after the treatment. If you had acceptance problems with your body image before cancer and its treatment, you may feel your problems have worsened. Or you may tide through the treatment and after it well, but may be as time passes your feelings change. This could be due to your circumstances, your environment or other reasons.

It is also possible that your entire outlook towards your body image may change phenomenally and positively. Your stint with cancer may change the way you look at things, life and people.

 It is important that whenever issues with body image arise, they be addressed. But, remember that your body is just one part of your whole self and it is only as important as you make it. This is the time to look at yourself as a whole, your personality, your interests and talents. You will have to make an effort and work a way around these changes. Let the fact that you are a fighter, a survivor give you strength to deal with these minor issues confidently.

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  • meetunayyar
  • A lawyer by profession, social worker and a fighter against cancer