What can help – practical advice

There are ways to manage body changes to help you feel better about your appearance. Your doctor or nurse can also give you information and practical advice. They'll tell you about any possible options, such as reconstructive surgery. They can explain how to manage certain side effects of treatment.

Reconstructive surgery, such as breast reconstruction, can be done immediately or years later. It may be possible to have surgery to improve the appearance of a scar. A prosthesis that doesn’t fit well or isn’t the right colour can be changed. Treatment late effects, such as lymphoedema, can also usually be improved.

There are lots of ways to cover up hair loss. You could wear wigs, hats or scarves. You can draw on your eyebrows or use false eyelashes if needed. Boots Macmillan Bbeauty Aadvisors can help with this and give you advice about looking after your skin, nails and hair.

Camouflage make-up can help cover up skin grafts or scars. You can use different clothing to help you cover up or draw attention away from changes.

Getting information

Before treatment, your cancer doctor and nurse will give you information to prepare you for your treatment and how it is likely to affect you. They’ll talk about any options, such as reconstructive surgery, and help you make decisions. They can also:

  • tell you about possible side effects and what may help, such as cold cap treatment that may help reduce hair loss
  • refer you to other members of the team, for example occupational therapists, physiotherapists or speech and language therapists
  • refer you for services such as counselling if you think that would be helpful
  • arrange for a second opinion about your treatment if you feel this would be useful.

It’s important to let your cancer doctor or nurse know if you have concerns about your body image at any point during or after your treatment. There are different ways they can help and support you.

Reconstructive surgery

If you feel less confident and attractive because of an operation that has changed your appearance, it may be possible to have further surgery to improve it.

For example, women who have had a mastectomy can have breast reconstruction. This can be done straight away or years after the first operation. It can help women feel more confident, feminine and sexually attractive. Women who had surgery to remove only part of the breast can also have surgery to improve the shape of their breast. Your specialist or breast care nurse will talk to you about this. They can refer you to a specialist surgeon.

Improving the appearance of a scar

Scars usually improve in appearance in the months after your operation. If a scar doesn’t look better, ask your surgeon if there is anything that can be done to help. It may be possible to have surgery to make it less noticeable. Doctors call this scar revision. A surgeon can do this under a general anaesthetic. They can also sometimes do it under a local anaesthetic, where you have an injection to make the area numb.

You usually have to wait at least six months after your first operation to have scar revision.


If you wear any type of prosthesis (false body part) and don’t feel confident, talk to your nurse or doctor. The prosthesis may not be the right fit, type or colour match for you. They can arrange for you to be reassessed, even if your prosthesis is still in good condition. If you have had the prosthesis for a while, there may be new, improved types available.

For women who had breast cancer, Breast Cancer Care has information about prostheses. For people with facial prostheses, Changing Faces has some information.

Weight gain or weight loss

Some cancer treatments may cause you to gain or lose weight. This can be upsetting and cause body image concerns.

Steroids are often given with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. They can cause weight gain. Some people lose weight if they can’t eat enough because of symptoms, treatments, or their side effects.

Ask your specialist nurse or dietitian for advice. It’s not recommended that you try to lose weight on purpose during cancer treatment. After treatment, when you feel ready, you can look at ways of managing your weight by eating healthily and being more physically active.

If you have lost weight, it’s important to get advice from a dietitian. There are different ways to add calories to food and nutritional drinks and powders to help build up your weight.

Late treatment effects

Late treatment effects, such as lymphoedema or bladder or bowel changes, often affect body image. There are usually things that can be done to improve and to manage them so you feel more confident.

If you are having problems with lymphoedema, contact your lymphoedema specialist nurse. If you don’t have one, ask your doctor to refer you. Some people may need their support sleeve or stocking re-fitted. Or they might need new advice on managing lymphoedema.

If you have bladder or bowel late treatment effects, it’s important to talk to your doctor or nurse. They can refer you to other healthcare professionals for advice and possible treatments.

We have more information on managing late treatment effects to help you to cope.

Covering up changes

There are different ways to cover up changes and to help you feel better about yourself.

Different people can help you with this. This includes your healthcare team, who can:

  • advise you about clothing and accessories, for example using a scarf to cover up hair loss
  • make sure you have the most suitable and least obvious product, for example a speaking valve after surgery to remove the voicebox (larynx)
  • refer you to Changing Faces for advice about camouflage make-up, or to the British Association of Skin Camouflage
  • refer you for a replacement part (prosthesis), for example a breast prosthesis.

Hair loss

If you choose to cover your head, there are lots of ways you can do it, for example using wigs, hats, turbans, scarves and bandanas. Some chemotherapy drugs make you lose all your body hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. Boots Macmillan beauty advisors can help you draw on eyebrows or use false eyelashes.

Your hair will usually grow back over a few months once you’ve finished treatment. It will be very fine at first and may be a slightly different colour or texture than before. You’ll probably have a full head of hair after 3–6 months.

We have more information about managing hair loss.

Make-up and beauty treatments

Make-up and beauty treatments can help you make the most of your appearance so you feel better. You can use them to cover up some changes and to take attention away from others.

Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors

These advisors are specially trained by Macmillan and Boots. They give you face-to-face advice about caring for your skin, nails and hair during treatment. They’ll show you how to use products to:

  • disguise skin changes
  • draw on eyebrows
  • emphasise certain features.

Visit Boots Store Locator to find your nearest Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisor.

Look Good Feel Better (LGFB)

This charity has trained volunteer beauty professionals who run free workshops for women and teenagers coping with cancer treatment. Workshops are available in over 80 hospitals and specialist cancer centres across the UK. Ask your nurse or doctor for a referral or visit the LGFB website to find one in your area.

LGFB USA has a cancer care website specifically for men. It gives advice about shaving, skin care and how to unwind and relax.

Camouflage make-up

If you have had skin grafts (skin replaced with skin from another part of the body), the colour may not match your surrounding skin. Or you may have visible scars you’d like to cover up. Using camouflage make-up can help.

Changing Faces has trained skin camouflage practitioners. They find the best colour match for your skin tone and teach you how to apply the specialist waterproof cover creams and powders. You can get these on prescription. Changing Faces runs clinics across the UK.

If you wear a prosthetic and it doesn’t match your camouflage make-up, go back and see the person who supplied it. They can match the colour to your camouflage make-up.


You can use clothes and accessories to feel comfortable and good about yourself and to cover up certain body changes. What you wear is also a way of expressing yourself. You can look at the clothes you already have to see what’s suitable. Ask a family member or friend to help you.

Depending on the body change you have, you can get advice on clothing from support organisations, for example Breast Cancer Care, Changing Faces, the Colostomy Association, the Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Support Group or the National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs. Online community forums are also a good place to get advice.

Here are some tips that might help:

  • If you have had surgery to the tummy area, have swollen legs or have put on weight, trousers with drawstring or elasticated waists or flat-front trousers are good.
  • Long skirts, with or without slits, or wrap skirts can be a good alternative to trousers.
  • If you have had a mastectomy and were used to wearing lower-cut dresses before it, try wearing them with a camisole top underneath.
  • High V-neck shirts help if you want to cover a scar or central line in the chest area.
  • High, mandarin-type collars or polo necks help cover up your neck area.
  • Patterned shirts draw attention to the pattern and away from other areas.
  • Bell-shaped sleeves are good if you have a swollen arm.
  • Accessories help give different looks to one outfit. They also draw attention to certain areas and away from others.
  • Be careful not to draw more attention to a change by hiding it. For example, instead of wearing a high-necked jumper in summer, try a lightweight scarf. It does the same thing and is less obvious.

If you need to buy new clothes because of body changes and can’t afford it, ask about a Macmillan grant.

Back to Cancer and body image

Relationships, intimacy and sex

Cancer and its treatments can affect your sex life and relationships. Talking openly and taking the time to get used to possible body changes can help.

Helping you take control

Setting realistic goals, dealing with problems in a structured way and challenging unhelpful thinking can help you take control.

Changing the way you think

Being aware of your thoughts may help you notice unhelpful thinking patterns. It can then allow you to challenge these.