Does Cancer Change Your Physical Appearance?

Medically Reviewed on 3/15/2022
Does Cancer Change Your Physical Appearance
Cancer and cancer treatment can cause significant changes in your physical appearance, both short term and long term

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause significant changes in your physical appearance, both short term and long term. Changes may include:

How does cancer affect your physical appearance?

  • Hair: Hair loss or thinning can occur due to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy. Some people may lose hair from the head, whereas others may lose hair in other areas of the body.
  • Skin: Cancer can lead to the development of lumps or moles that bleed easily or do not heal. Your skin may develop pigmentation changes, turn yellow, darken, or become photosensitive. Cancer can also cause your skin to become dry, scaly, and itchy.
  • Nails: Cancer treatment can affect the nails by making them brittle and weak. Nails may develop ridges, split, or become spoon-shaped (koilonychia).
  • Body weight: Depending on the type of cancer and treatment, cancer can cause weight loss or weight gain. Weight loss can occur due to loss of appetite, altered taste sensation, difficulty swallowing, constipation, diarrhea, and oral problems. Weight gain may occur due to lymphedema or swelling of certain body parts.
  • Surgery: Scarring due to biopsies or surgical removal of tissue or bone can impact your physical appearance. In some cases, amputation may be necessary as well.

What are other common effects of cancer?

Changes in physical appearance that come with cancer can have cause great psychological distress:

  • Feeling of loss of identity
  • Helplessness
  • Low self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Anger or frustration
  • Embarrassment

Cancer and cancer treatment can also cause:

How can the physical effects of cancer be reduced?

Changes in physical appearance can take a huge toll on cancer patients mentally and emotionally. Some may avoid going outside or isolate themselves. Here are a few tips to cope with the physical changes that can come with cancer:

  • Try to stay positive and not worry about what others may be thinking.
  • Remember that many of these changes are temporary and will go away once your treatment is done.
  • Wear a scarf or a wig if you feel self-conscious about hair loss.
  • Practice yoga or meditation to help manage stress.
  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take advantage of therapy or counseling.


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Medically Reviewed on 3/15/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Baer W. Cancer Changed Your Appearance. WebMD.

OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Physical Side Effects of Cancer.

National Institutes of Health. Skin and Nail Changes During Cancer Treatment.