- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Living well after cancer
- Coping with side effects
- Changed body image
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.
Dr Haryana Dhillon, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, NSW; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Jessica Barbon, Dietitian, Southern Adelaide Health Network, SA; Dr Anna Burger, Liaison Psychiatrist and Senior Staff Specialist, Psycho-oncology Clinic, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, ACT; Elizabeth Dillon, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Paul Glare, Chair in Pain Medicineand Director, Pain Management Research Institute, University of Sydney, NSW; Nico le Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Amanda Piper, Manager, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kyle Smith, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, WA; Aaron Tan, Consumer; Dr Kate Webber, Medical Oncologist and Research Director, National Centre for Cancer Survivorship, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
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
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