- Cancer Information
- LGBTQI+ People and Cancer
- Body image, gender and cancer
- Other changes to your appearance
Other changes to your appearance
Below we discuss other changes to your appearance that LGBTQI+ people diagnosed with cancer may experience.
Learn more about:
Surgery or radiation therapy can cause scarring. Scars usually fade over time and are harder to see. Sometimes people worry because a scar looks or feels red, tight and uncomfortable. This may make you feel self-conscious, even if others can’t see it. Ask your doctor about creams that may help the scar heal and become lighter in colour. In some cases, you may choose to have surgery to make a scar less noticeable.
Itchy, red and dry skin can be a side effect of some targeted therapy, immunotherapy and hormone therapy drugs. Radiation therapy can also cause skin changes. These changes can make you feel self-conscious.
If the surgeon removes lymph nodes from your armpit, groin or pelvic area, the lymph fluid may no longer drain properly, and your arm or leg may swell. This is called lymphoedema. Although lymphoedema may be permanent, the pain it causes can usually be managed. Ask a lymphoedema practitioner whether wearing a compression garment would help.
For more on this, see our general section on Lymphoedema.
Occasionally, surgery for bowel, anal, ovarian or bladder cancer means you need a temporary or permanent opening in the body (stoma). For a bowel stoma, a new opening in the abdomen allows bowel movements (faeces, also called stools or poo) to empty into a bag that sticks onto the skin of your abdomen. For a bladder stoma, a new opening collects and stores urine (pee or wee). Getting used to the stoma takes time. You may feel self-conscious about having a stoma, and worry that it can be seen under clothing, but it usually isn’t noticeable. Learn more about sexual intimacy when you have a stoma.
Ways to adjust to changes in appearance
- Keep in mind that body image is based on a mix of emotional and physical factors, not just on a body part or physical characteristic.
- Exercise regularly. It can help improve body image, quality of life, and reduce the risk of cancer coming back. Consider seeing an exercise professional for a tailored exercise program.
- Wear accessories and clothes that make you feel good or highlight your favourite features.
- Look at your “new” body in the mirror to get used to how it has changed.
- Talk to your GP or a psychologist if you have trouble adjusting to the changes to your body.
- Connect with people on social media who have similar experiences. They may have suggestions on how to adapt to your changing appearance.
- Ask your doctor about reconstructive surgery, prosthetic devices and/or cosmetic solutions. These are not for everyone but may help improve self- esteem and body image.
For more on this, see Living well after cancer.
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
The information on this page is also available for download.
We thank the chief investigators from the Out with Cancer research project: Prof Jane Ussher, Prof Janette Perz, Prof Martha Hickey, Prof Suzanne Chambers, Prof Gary Dowsett, Prof Ian Davis, Prof Katherine Boydell, Prof Kerry Robinson and Dr Chloe Parton. Partner investigators were Dr Fiona McDonald and A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo. Research Associates were Dr Rosalie Power, Dr Kimberley Allison and Dr Alexandra J. Hawkey.
We thank the reviewers of our LGBTQI+ People and Cancer booklet: Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Heath Psychology and Chief Investigator, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; ACON; Dr Kimberley Allison, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Supportive and Palliative Care Specialist, Westmead Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo OAM, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Megan Bathgate, Consumer; Gregory Bock, Clinical Nurse Consultant–Oncology Coordinator, Urology Cancer Nurse Coordination Service, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Morgan Carpenter, Executive Director, Intersex Human Rights Australia (formerly OII Australia); Prof Lorraine Chantrill, Medical Co-Director Cancer Services, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Ada Cheung, Endocrinologist, Head, Trans Health Research Group, Department of Medicine (Austin Health), The University of Melbourne, VIC; Bonney Corbin, Australian Women’s Health Network; Cristyn Davies, Research Fellow, Specialty of Child and Adolescent Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney and Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School, NSW; Prof Ian Davis, Professor of Medicine, Monash University and Eastern Health, Medical Oncologist, Eastern Health, Chair, ANZUP Cancer Trials Group, VIC; Rebecca Dominguez, President, Bisexual Alliance Victoria; Liz Duck-Chong, Projects Coordinator, TransHub and Trans Health Equity, ACON, NSW; Lauren Giordano, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Natalie Halse, BCNA Consumer Representative; Jem Hensley, Consumer; Prof Martha Hickey, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The University of Melbourne, and Director of the Gynaecology Research Centre, The Women’s Hospital, VIC; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker – Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Amber Loomis, Policy and Research Coordinator, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia; Julie McCrossin and Melissa Gibson, Consumers; Dr Fiona McDonald, Research Manager, Canteen, NSW; Dr Gary Morrison, Shine a Light (LGBTQIA+ Cancer Support Group); Penelope Murphy, Cancer Council NSW Liaison, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Dr Rosalie Power, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Jan Priaulx, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Paul Scott-Williams, Consumer; Simone Sheridan, Sexual Health Nurse Consultant, Sexual Health Services, Austin Health, VIC; Cheryl Waller and Rhonda Beach, Consumers.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.