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Body image

Breast cancer can affect how you feel about your body. Many treatments bring unwanted side effects which can result in unwanted physical changes to your body. Some of these changes might include the loss of a breast or breasts, weight gain or loss, hair loss and scarring.

As you respond to your changing body, it’s likely that your body image will change too. For some women this isn’t a big deal; for others it is critically important.

Body image is important to our emotional wellbeing. If the changes to your body make you feel less attractive, you may lose some confidence in yourself. If this happens, try to remember that you are not alone. It is an experience shared by many women who have treatment for breast cancer.

At first, because of the big change in my body, I felt very unsexy. I had only one breast and had put on weight. It certainly does something to your self-esteem. – Louise

Many women have told us they grieve for their lost breast/s and their old body. While some women adjust quickly to their new bodies, others find it hard to come to terms with the changes. Some feel they are ‘not quite whole’ without two breasts, and using breast prostheses or having a breast reconstruction is really important to them. For others having a defined breast shape is not so important. Everyone is different, and adjusting to these changes can take time. 

After I had bilateral mastectomies I did not go for reconstruction or prostheses. I was happy to just be me, so I bought really nice camisole tops. –Ann 

Tips

Here are some quick tips on dealing with your changing body image:

  • Include regular exercise in your week – studies show that women who exercise regularly have a better body image and higher self-esteem. Our Exercise and staying fit page has tips on exercising during and after breast cancer treatment.
  • Wear clothes that make you feel good.
  • Be kind to yourself – accept that your treatment will bring about changes to your body.
  • Examine your ‘new’ body in the mirror and take time to be comfortable with it.
  • Talk to your GP, breast care nurse or a psychologist if you are having trouble coming to terms with the changes to your body.

Body image and sex

Body image can play a big role in how you feel about sex. Our Sexual wellbeing page has more information on this topic. You may also like to order a copy of our Breast cancer and sexual wellbeing booklet.