- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
- Overcoming specific challenges
- Changes in appearance
Changes in appearance
It’s common to feel anxious about the physical changes caused by treatment, including: loss of hair from the head and body; weight loss or weight gain; skin rashes; removal of a body part and use of a prosthesis; swelling of part of the body (lymphoedema); having a stoma; and scars. For more on this, see Removal of a body part.
Some cancers of the head and neck can cause significant changes to the way you speak, eat or breathe. This can be upsetting because the change is visible, and kissing, speech and eating may be affected.
The way you look may affect how you feel about yourself. Changes to your appearance may make you feel less attractive, and this can affect your sexual confidence, self-esteem and body image. You may worry about other people’s reactions to you. It takes time to adjust to changes in appearance.
Look Good Feel Better program
This free two-hour program teaches men, women and teens how to use skin care, hats and wigs to help restore appearance and self-esteem during and after treatment. Call 1800 650 960 or visit Look Good Feel Better for more information and to book into a workshop.
My sexual partner has always wanted to have sex with me – this made me feel good about myself after my surgery and when my head was shaved. He didn’t care – he just loved my body anyway.
Tips for adjusting to appearance changes
- Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge how you are feeling.
- Look at and touch your scars so you get used to the changes.
- Give yourself time to get used to any physical changes. Some changes may be temporary and will improve with time.
- Focus on yourself as a whole person and not just the part of you that has changed.
- Remember that sexual attraction is based on a mix of emotional and physical factors, not on a single body part or another physical characteristic.
- Use clothing, make-up or accessories to highlight your best features.
- Choose well-fitting clothes. Wearing something too tight or too baggy will draw attention to your weight loss or gain.
- If your hair has fallen out, you can wear a hat, wig or scarf, or you may prefer to leave your head uncovered. See Hair Loss or call 13 11 20 to ask about a wig service in your area.
- Show your partner any body changes before sexual activity. This may allow both of you to get used to how the differences make you feel.
- If you feel uncomfortable about a part of your body, you can wear clothes to cover it during sex – e.g. if you’ve had breast surgery you may choose to wear a camisole. You may also prefer to avoid sexual positions that leave the area exposed.
- Dim the lights when you have sex until you feel more confident about your body.
- Talk to your doctor about the possibility of plastic surgery or a facial prosthesis if you have had a significant change in your facial appearance from surgery or radiation therapy. This may help you regain a more natural appearance and help with changes in speech.
- See a counsellor to help you adjust to the changes.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Helena Green, Clinical Sexologist and Counsellor, inSync for Life, WA; Anita Brown-Major, Occupational Therapist, Thrive Rehab, VIC; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Consultant, Gynae-oncology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Headway Health and Concord Hospital, NSW; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Kath Schubach, Urology Nurse Practitioner, President – Australia and New Zealand Urological Nurses Society (ANZUNS), VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Maria Voukelatos, Consumer. We would like to thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.