Changes in physical appearance that may result from cancer and its treatment may produce some psychological distress, depending on the patient, their age, personality, gender and culture. Some cancer patients may be more troubled by changes in appearance, while others may be more troubled by changes in body function.
One change in physical appearance is hair loss from radiation therapy or chemotherapy treatments. Whether hair loss occurs depends on the chemotherapy type, dose or the area of radiation. Usually hair loss is temporary, but in some cases (such as direct radiation to the head) it can be permanent.
Individuals who struggled with their body image before cancer diagnosis may have an even harder time coping with changes in appearance. Reaction of partners and others can affect the way a person adjusts to the changes, too. For some people, the physical changes may add to psychological distress since they are a concrete reminder of a cancer diagnosis. Some changes only last a short time while others are permanent.
Potential appearance changes include:
- scars from surgery
- hair loss due to chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- surgical modification of body parts
- weight gain/loss
- skin changes such as redness, itching, more sensitivity, or pain in the area that was treated
- loss of muscle mass or muscle weakness
- enlargement of breasts in men (gynecomastia)
- changes in sexual functioning
Employees’ comfort level with changes in physical appearance may have a profound impact on how they relate to others. Certain types of cancer and its treatment, such as head and neck cancer, may produce more visible body changes. Breast cancer treatment can involve removal of a breast. Changes in the body, whether visible or not, may affect employees both physically and psychologically. That, in turn, may affect how comfortable they feel working with others or the public.