Breast Cancer in women

Body image

Breast cancer surgery, whether it removes the whole breast or only part of it, can be a traumatic experience. Women react to and cope differently with their changed bodies, and the first few months are likely to be the most difficult. Here women discuss the feelings they had about their body image.

Although women emphasised the importance of treating the cancer, concerns about body image, self esteem and personal relationships were also considered significant in terms of making a full recovery. Woman who had a mastectomy often talked about their concerns about looking at the scar. Although some women looked at it shortly after the operation, one woman felt reluctant to look at her body and felt embarrassed when undressing in front of her husband. Like other women, however, she noted how these feelings receded with time.

How women reacted to and coped with their new body image also depended on the appearance of the scar. A few women who had worked in the health field said they knew what to expect and did not feel overly shocked or upset. Other women felt that adapting to their new body image took some time but it does not cause any anxieties now.

Some women said they coped well with their new body image but, had they been younger, their concerns might have been different.

Some women said that that they felt comfortable showing their scar to other people, including family, friends and children.

Several women said they accepted that a mastectomy was the best option for them but the impact of it struck them later when they needed to think more carefully about what they could wear.

A few women explained that their feelings towards their new body image were bound up with the side effects of treatments, such as weight gain and hair loss. Several women also discussed rebuilding their confidence after the illness. Some women took part in support group fashion shows, and others discussed the possibility of further breast surgery for cosmetic purposes. One woman described having laser surgery to improve the appearance of her scar, allowing her to wear a greater variety of clothing.

Healthtalkonline has a whole site on breast cancer in men, for more information see 'Body image for men with breast cancer'.

Last reviewed October 2012.
Last updated June 2010.

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