Physical body changes and cancer
Cancer and its treatment can cause a number of different physical changes to your body.
If you experience a change that’s not mentioned here, you should discuss it with your doctor or nurse.
Changes brought on by cancer or its treatment can affect:
Appearance – the way you look. For example, surgery can cause scarring or a change in shape to your body. A part of your body may have been removed, such as a breast or limb. Some people may have a scar on their face. Other changes might include hair loss, weight loss/gain, skin changes or a swelling to a limb or area of the body (lymphoedema).
Function – the way your body works. For example, some people may need a colostomy. This is a surgically made opening on the surface of the tummy (abdomen), called a stoma. Bowel motions are passed through the opening and into a bag. Other examples include changes to your senses, movement, speech, swallowing and fertility. Young women may have menopausal symptoms after certain treatments. Other treatments can affect memory or concentration.
Sensation – the way your body feels. For example, after surgery, the area can feel different, with areas of numbness.
Other effects include changes in hearing or tingling, numbness and pain in the hands and feet. People that have lost a limb due to cancer treatment may have ‘phantom pain’ sensations of the limb, even though it’s been removed. Radiotherapy can sometimes change the way the skin feels over the treated area.
I have always valued my strength and ability to do things myself but there are things that I can’t do for myself now.
Body changes can occur quickly or over a long period of time. These changes may be temporary or permanent, visible or hidden from other people.
Concerns about your body can occur at any time. Some people will focus on just getting through their treatment and won’t think about its impact until much later.
The effect on someone isn’t always related to the size, severity or visibility of the change. For example, a small hidden scar can still affect a person’s mood, confidence or sexuality.
Changes to your body may seem more important after you leave hospital, at the start of another type of treatment or after finishing treatment. Some people may feel that they ‘don’t recognise themselves’ or that they ‘lose themselves’.