Changed body image

Treatment for cancer can change how your body looks and works. How you feel about yourself (your self-esteem) may be affected by:

  • changes to your appearance (e.g. from surgery) or body shape
  • hair loss or hair growing back differently
  • speech difficulties
  • problems with eating or drinking
  • breathing changes or shortness of breath
  • weight loss or gain
  • bowel or bladder changes
  • changes to your sex life and intimacy
  • early menopause or infertility
  • a sense of feeling prematurely old. 

It will take time to adjust to these changes physically and emotionally. Many cancer survivors say they feel angry and upset by the changes caused by the cancer and its treatment.

You may worry about how your family and friends will react, and whether your partner or a potential partner will find you physically attractive. It may help to let others know how you are feeling. They probably want to provide support and reassurance that they still love you, and hearing what they have to say may boost your confidence.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family, consider speaking to your health care team, a psychologist or a counsellor. It may help to talk to someone who has had a similar experience. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information on support services.

Adjusting to changes in appearance

  • Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Give yourself time to get used to any physical changes. Focus on yourself as a whole person, not just the part of you that has changed.
  • Talk about and acknowledge the changes. If you don’t, people may avoid you because they don’t know what to say.
  • For practical suggestions about dealing with physical changes, call 13 11 20.

This information was last reviewed in April 2018
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Life after cancer treatment
Programs and support for people who have finished treatment

Cancer Council Online Community
A community forum – a safe place to share stories, get tips and connect with people who understand

ENRICH – a free healthy lifestyle program
A face-to-face exercise and nutrition program for cancer survivors

Cancer information

Physical effects and emotions
How to manage emotions when cancer treatment has caused physical changes

The role of partners
Tips for maintaining intimacy when your partner has had cancer treatment

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends