Cancer and its treatment may change body appearance. Whether such changes are temporary or permanent, it can take some time to adjust.
Many survivors feel self-conscious or anxious about their body, especially in intimate situations and sexual encounters. For example, a woman might worry about her partner’s reaction when she loses a breast to mastectomy. A man might feel less masculine if he has had a testicle removed. Some people feel less attractive if they have surgical scars, an ostomy bag, or hair loss.
These anxieties can lower self-confidence and self-esteem.
Survivors coping with body image changes might consider these steps:
Talk to your partner.
If you’re feeling insecure about your body image, be open with your partner about it. He or she will likely reassure you that you are just as attractive now as you were before having cancer.
If you’re single and dating a new partner, you might wait until you feel a sense of trust in your new relationship before bringing up your cancer experience. You might role play the conversation with a friend or family member.
Adapt the environment
If you’re feeling self-conscious about surgical scars, ostomy bags, or similar changes, you might suggest having sex in low lighting or partially clothed. Some people with ostomy bags wear a special wrap that conceals the stoma (the surgical hole that allows for the passage of feces and urine) and bag.
Try a wig, scarf, or prosthesis
Chemotherapy causes hair loss in many cancer patients. Wigs are available in all sorts of styles and colors. Ask a friend to go with you to choose one – or several. You could go with a completely new look, if you want to. Head scarves are another popular option.
Women who have lost one or both breasts may opt for a breast form, which can be fitted especially for them. Some clothing lines make bathing suits and lingerie specifically for women who have undergone mastectomy.
Reconcile yourself with your body
When alone, cultivate self love by taking care of your body. It can be through shopping, makeup, exercising, adopting a new look, or indulging in a long bath.
When with your partner, reconnect with your body through your senses. It can be with the help of a relaxing music, some candles, or even a deep relaxing massage
If you are struggling with body image related to cancer, know that you’re not alone. Ask your healthcare provider about counselors or support groups (either in person or online) that specialize in cancer and sexuality. Someone who has faced the same issue can provide advice and encouragement. You can also learn more about retailers who offer products like breast forms or wigs.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can help a lot too.
Also, don’t hesitate to ask about therapy to cope with depression or anxiety. You might consider bringing your partner to therapy sessions, too.
“Prosthetics: An Alternative to Reconstruction”
(Last modified: August 16, 2016)
Cancer.net (American Society of Clinical Oncology)
“Self-Image and Cancer”
(Approved: April 2018)
Dana Farber Cancer Institute
“How to choose a wig”
“Cancer and Sex for Single Women”
(August 21, 2013)
“Sex and Inflammatory Bowel Disease”
(January 31, 2017)