Women and Body Image (cont.)


Cancer takes a huge toll on American women. By the end of 2001, some 625,000 women will have been diagnosed with cancer, and about 267,300 women will have died of the disease. Fifty-eight percent of the estimated 8.9 million cancer survivors today are women. Cancers that are specific to or affect women in high numbers include breast, cervical, endometrial (uterine), ovarian, lung, skin, and colorectal cancers, as well as AIDS-associated cancers. Breast cancer is the most frequent type of new cancer diagnosed in women. The number one cause of cancer deaths in women is lung cancer; breast cancer is number two. Cancer is a complex group of diseases where cells grow out of control, becoming abnormal and causing illness. Major advances have occurred in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Cancer and its treatments can affect a woman's body image in many ways. Surgery can cause changes in physical appearance and scarring. Other treatments can cause weight loss or weight gain, fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and skin changes, which can change how a woman looks and feels. Wigs and makeup are some options to help women look and feel better. If a woman has a breast removed, she can have surgery to reconstruct the breast or wear a prosthesis (an artificial or fake breast). Some women can find it hard to be upbeat when their treatment makes them feel bad or changes how they look. It is normal to feel this way. Talking with family, friends and your health care provider can give you the support you need to cope with cancer and it's treatments. For more, please visit the Cancer Center.


About 16 million Americans have diabetes and the numbers are growing every day. Obesity (being overweight), aging, and the couch-potato lifestyle increase a person's risk for diabetes. Children can also get diabetes. During pregnancy, diabetes can occur, which goes away when the pregnancy is over. But this can put a woman at increased risk for developing diabetes when she is older. People who have diabetes have higher than normal blood sugar levels, which prevents their bodies from getting needed fuel for growth and energy. Some of the problems that can occur with diabetes include blindness, loss of a limb, heart disease, kidney failure, and premature death. With the proper treatment and changes in diet and exercise, many people who have diabetes can live healthy and full lives.

A woman's body image can change when she has diabetes. Even if a woman feels great, having to always watch what she eats and check her blood sugar can be a constant reminder that something is wrong. Starting a diet and exercise program to help manage diabetes can be stressful. It is important for women to learn as much as they can about managing diabetes. It is also important for women to know the warning signs of diabetes: extreme thirst; frequent urination; weight loss without trying to lose weight; extreme hunger; sudden vision changes; tingling or numbness in the hands or feet; continuous fatigue; very dry skin; slow-healing sores; and increase in infections. Seeing your health care provider as soon as you think there may be a problem is best. For more, please visit the Diabetes Mellitus Center.


HIV/AIDS is the third leading cause of death in women aged 25 to 44. For African-American women aged 25 to 44, it is the number one cause of death. The number of women getting infected with HIV has increased greatly in the past 10 years, particularly for younger women. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens the body's immune system, causing infections and illnesses in a person that they otherwise could fight off. With major advances in treatment, HIV is becoming a chronic (lifelong) disease that can be managed with drugs. Prevention, such as not having sex and always using a condom every time a person has sex, is the best weapon against HIV.

Living with a chronic disease like HIV can affect a woman's body image. Drugs that a woman needs to stay healthy and to treat HIV-related illnesses can change how she feels and looks. Side effects such as nausea, fatigue, headache, diarrhea, and weight loss, can vary from person to person and be mild to extreme. Living with HIV can be stressful, affecting a woman's self-esteem and mental health. Women may need to care for children and other family members who also have HIV. Feeling alone, overwhelmed, and depressed at times is normal. Taking care of yourself and having a positive attitude is important. Getting the support you need from family and friends is equally important. For more, please visit the AIDS/HIV Center.


Autoimmune disease is the fourth leading cause of disability in women. There are over 80 different disorders, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Seventy-five percent of these illnesses occur in women, mostly of childbearing age. Lupus is three times more common in African-American women, even though women of all races get lupus. With autoimmune disease a person's immune system, which fights off disease and infection, attacks healthy tissue, making a person sick. Autoimmune diseases are hard to diagnose and treat. People can suffer a great deal, both physically and mentally, before health care providers figure out what is wrong.

Lupus and other autoimmune diseases can affect a woman's body image in many ways. Physical changes a woman has no control over can occur. With lupus, there is a trademark "butterfly" rash on the face and hair loss. Fatigue that can often be extreme is a partner in all of these illnesses, and can lead to depression. Coping with not feeling well, sometimes every day, can be very stressful. A woman may lose her independence or not be able to care for her family. It is important for women to talk about their concerns and to get the support they need. Many advances are happening with the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune diseases.