How Physical Changes From Breast Cancer Affect Self-Image: Considerations for Clinicians

How Physical Changes From Breast Cancer Affect Self-Image: Considerations for Clinicians
How Physical Changes From Breast Cancer Affect Self-Image: Considerations for Clinicians

After receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, many women work closely with their oncologists to carefully map out an individualized medical treatment plan. But it can be difficult to plan for the emotional and self-image challenges that the treatment itself may present. Patients with cancers that can cause more readily noticeable physical alterations—and create a visual sign of their illness—may become more self-conscious and have a poorer self-image.1

Although any cancer diagnosis can present physical challenges and threats to self-image, breast cancer can particularly impact the way a woman views herself. Each stage of breast cancer treatment and recovery can bring about new physical changes that the woman will have to integrate into her evolving self-image. By being aware of the physical impacts of treatment and offering timely, sensitive interventions, clinicians can convey that a woman's self-image concerns are valid and worthy of support.

Chemotherapy and Radiation

Prior to beginning chemotherapy, many women anticipate experiencing some level of common side effects, including nausea, fatigue, weight changes, and hair loss. For many, hair loss that accompanies chemotherapy is the first outwardly visible sign that they are undergoing cancer treatment and a signal that they have crossed over from health into illness, which can be particularly difficult to grapple with.1

In addition, many common breast cancer chemotherapy regimens can cause weight changes. And women undergoing breast radiation may experience localized changes to the impacted area, including blistering, peeling, and rashes. Although these changes are usually temporary, some women find that after radiation, their breast tissue has a different texture, with the skin appearing and feeling hardened or no longer smooth.  

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