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Breast cancer and breast cancer treatments can cause changes to your body. As you start treatment, your relationship with your body may get more complicated. You even might start feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.

Surgery to remove one or both breasts (mastectomy) can cause a range of emotions and body image concerns. Hair loss, weight changes, fatigue, and other physical effects can also take a toll on body image and self-esteem.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable in your body, know that there are resources to help you adapt and adjust over time.

This process will likely be different for every person, but with some help and support, you can and will feel more comfortable in your body with breast cancer.

Everyone undergoing breast cancer treatment will experience some sort of changes in their body.

It’s important to remind yourself that these changes are necessary to fight your cancer and increase your chances of survival.

Of course, it’s natural to have concerns about these changes and wish to find ways to feel good despite them.

Hair loss during treatment doesn’t happen to everyone, but if it does, it’s almost always temporary.

Still, hair loss might make you feel like you lost an important part of who you are. For some women, their hair can be a huge part of their identity, personal expression, and femininity.

As you start treatment, you may lose hair in the shower or notice clumps fall out when you brush it. You may also find clumps of hair on your pillowcase after waking up. Your eyelashes, eyebrows, and pubic hair may also fall out.

At this point, it’s important to do what helps you feel the most confident:

  • You might find it empowering to shave your head before all your hair completely falls out.
  • You can also gradually cut your hair shorter over the course of a few days or weeks to ease into the change.
  • You can wear a wig that resembles your natural hair or one that gives you a totally new look.
  • You can decide to wear a hat, cap, or scarf.

You might also want to ask your care team about scalp cooling, a therapy that involves wearing a cold headpiece during chemotherapy. The cold slows down blood flow to your scalp, which means hair follicles are less exposed to the chemo. This could mean you’ll lose less or no hair during treatment.

It’s important to note that scalp cooling isn’t available at all cancer treatment centers. It’s usually a costly out-of-pocket expense because health insurance coverage for scalp cooling isn’t yet standard in the United States.

Pain and fatigue can make you less active, which means you might gain weight during treatment. Certain medications, like steroids or hormonal therapy, can also cause weight gain. In fact, a majority of women undergoing breast cancer treatment gain weight.

It’s important not to punish yourself for weight gain during this time.

It might not be possible to prevent weight gain, but you may be able to minimize it with diet changes:

  • make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • consume a source of lean protein with every meal
  • avoid processed foods, processed meats, and sugary foods and beverages
  • avoid foods high in fat, especially trans fats

There’s no need to exercise vigorously but try to keep moving every day. Even a short walk or bike ride can help you stay active, reduce depression, improve fatigue, and help you maintain your healthy weight.

If you’re having trouble with your diet, ask your care team for a referral to a nutritionist or dietician who specializes in people undergoing cancer treatment.

After breast cancer surgery, you’ll undoubtedly notice changes in your body. The treatment may have strained your relationship with your body, but it’s important to be kind to yourself.

Achieving a healthy body image requires time, patience, forgiveness, and effort.

Losing one or more breasts due to mastectomy can be distressing. For most women, breasts are one aspect of their femininity, sexuality, physical attractiveness, and motherhood.

While it’s possible to reconstruct the breasts with surgery or implants, it will still take some time to adapt to a new body. You’ll also need to understand that the reconstructed breasts won’t be the same as your natural breasts. They might feel firmer, lack sensation, or have scars from the surgery.

Research suggests that the best way to cope with these body image concerns is with psychosocial intervention, like counseling or therapy.

There’s no right or wrong way to feel. And some days will be better emotionally than others.

As you adapt to your new body, therapy can give you the tools to get through bad days and ensure you have as many good ones as possible.

Breast surgery, weight changes, and side effects of hormonal treatments, such as vaginal dryness, can make sex and intimacy more complicated. You may feel less interested in sex or sex might become painful for you.

Ask your doctor about medications for some of these symptoms, like low sex drive, vaginal dryness, and pain during sex.

Loss of interest in sex and body image concerns can also strain your relationship with your partner. It’s important to maintain open lines of communication between you and your partner during this time.

Your partner may be unsure how to show his/her support and affection. They might be waiting on your signal for the next steps.

But intimacy doesn’t always have to mean sex. Until you gain control over your symptoms, gestures such as holding hands, hugging, cuddling, or kissing could still be satisfying for your partner.

There are also mental health counselors who specialize in sexual intimacy following cancer treatment. Ask your doctor for a referral. They might use a technique known as cognitive behavioral therapy to help you increase sexual desire and decrease pain or discomfort during sex.

Joining a breast cancer survivors support group can improve your mental health. Not only can you empathize with those going through a similar experience, but you can each share tips and tricks about managing the physical effects of cancer treatment.

Another option is the Bezzy Breast Cancer app. This free app provides a platform to share experiences and ask questions to a community of survivors.

Download the Bezzy Breast Cancer app for iPhone or Android.

Though it may feel awkward at first to discuss your body image concerns, know that your care team is there to help you with all aspects of breast cancer treatment. Keep the line of communication open.

It’s not a sign of weakness to seek help or mental health counseling. If you’re feeling anxious and depressed about the changes to your body, consider talking with a psychologist or counselor about your concerns.

Body changes are a natural part of breast cancer treatment, but they might make you feel uneasy in your own body.

It’s okay to seek help from your care team to support you with these changes.

Support groups and mental health counselors can help you navigate the psychological effects, while your doctor can prescribe medications and other types of treatments to minimize side effects.