A new emphasis has been placed on a type of palliative care for patients with cancer that is as simple as picking up a small brush dipped in blue powder. Oncology practitioners are learning that a little eye shadow, mascara, lipstick, blush, and other cosmetics can make a world of difference in how a patient feels. The theory is all about self-image and is remarkably effective.


Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can affect the course of cancer in many ways, according to Michelle Cororve Fingeret, PhD, director of the Body Image Therapy Program and assistant professor in the behavioral science department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The Body Image Therapy Program, which Fingeret founded, is the first in the United States to focus on body image issues of patients with cancer.

Most of the patients enrolled in the program are struggling to accept the effect cancer and treatment have had on their bodies. They feel exhausted, depressed, embarrassed, and selfconscious. People in these situations commonly feel isolated, even as inpatients, and have difficulty getting well. Fingeret notes, “It is important to recognize that most cancer patients, both men and women, experience difficulties adjusting to body image changes that result from cancer and its treatment. These difficulties can arise at any point during treatment—even after treatment is completed.”1

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Patients who are about to undergo surgery or who have already undergone surgical changes to their faces were the most distressed.2 In a study led by Fingeret, 75% of participants were concerned or embarrassed about their posttreatment bodies. Many of those patients were unhappy with the information available on body image issues and would have liked to receive additional resources to help them cope with these changes.3  


The need to help patients create a body image they can accept is the impetus of the Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) program. This program teaches patients with cancer how to use cosmetics and application techniques to camouflage treatment-related changes to their physical appearance. Started in 1989 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center in Washington, DC, Look Good Feel Better programs are open to all patients with cancer who are undergoing treatment. More than 850,000 women have participated in the LGFB program, which now offers 15,400 workshops in more than 2,500 locations in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.4

Thousands of trained volunteer beauty professionals support the Look Good Feel Better program. They receive their training and certification at local, statewide, and national workshops provided by the American Cancer Society, the Professional Beauty Association, and the Personal Care Products Council Foundation. Other volunteers and many health care professionals also participate.

Personal Care Products Council-member companies donate all of the products used in brand-neutral packaging. The program also offers online support and maintains a 24-hour hotline. LGFB has programs for teens, men, and Spanish-language, as well as self-help mailer kits. In addition, many independent licensed Look Good Feel Better-affiliated programs are available around the world.  


Patients receive step-by-step instruction in groups with other cancer patients. Trained cosmetologists teach the women how to do everything from drawing eyebrows to replace the ones lost to chemotherapy to concealer tricks that cover up new pigmentation or scars. Each participant receives a gift of a makeup kit with everything she needs, which saves her from expending limited energy, time, and money. Wigs, turbans, and hats are available for experimenting with and, of course, the support and company of other women who are going through the same cancer experience. The women who have completed the program say that the impact on their looks and outlooks is “… immeasurable. And those who care about them say so, too.”4

To request Look Good Feel Better brochures for your patients, call 1-800- 395-LOOK (5665) or visit their Web site at http://lookgoodfeelbetter.org.

Bette Weinstein Kaplan is a medical writer based in Tenafly, New Jersey.


1. Q&A: Body Image therapy service. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Web site. http://www2.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/ 2011/05/qa-body-image-therapyservice.html. Published May 24, 2011. Accessed September 11, 2013.

2. M aciel L. Body image issues for cancer patients. Network. Winter 2011. http://www.mdanderson.org/publications/network/issues/2011-winter/body-image-issuescancer-patients.html. Accessed September 11, 2013

3. Fingeret MC , Yuan Y, Urbauer D, et al. The nature and extent of body image concerns among surgically treated patients with head and neck cancer [published online ahead of print June 27, 2011]. Psychooncology. doi:10.1002/ pon.1990.

4. L ook Good Feel Better. http://lookgoodfeelbetter.org. Accessed September 11, 2013.