Body Image and Feelings about How You Look

You may be having some concerns with changes in your physical appearance that are a normal part of adjusting to cancer and its treatment. Rest assured many of these changes may be temporary. Feel free to talk to your doctor or nurse if you would like some assistance with these concerns. The Cancer Support Community has a helpful booklet called Frankly Speaking About Cancer Treatment and Side Effects. To receive your free copy visit your CSC affiliate resource library or order here.

Hair Loss
Experiencing hair loss is a deeply personal and upsetting experience for most people. It is normal to be distressed about the loss of your hair and how it affects your appearance. Discussing your concerns with your healthcare team and finding ways to manage the loss is important for you to do. 

Will My Treatment Cause Hair Loss?
Not all treatment for cancer will cause hair loss and most hair loss is not permanent. You should ask if your treatment causes hair loss so that you can prepare for it, if it is an expected side effect.

When and How Will My Hair Fall Out?
Hair loss will usually begin 10-14 days following the first treatment. It is difficult to predict exactly how it will happen, but it may gradually thin or fall out in large clumps. In most cases, your hair will grow back when your treatment has been completed. Many times the texture and color of your new hair will be slightly different.

How Can I Manage Hair Loss?
  • Treat your hair gently by washing it with mild shampoo, using soft hairbrushes and mild lotions, patting it dry, avoiding hair color and high heat settings on curlers and blow-dryers.
  • Many people choose to get a short haircut or shave their head before they begin loosing hair, gaining a sense of control over their hair loss and test out their new look.
  • Consider visiting your hairdresser or wig store before you lose your hair to match your natural hair to the wig or change your look entirely.
  • Contact your insurance company to see if they will supplement the cost of a wig provided you submit a prescription for a “cranial” or “hair prosthesis.”
  • Check out cancer treatment centers for “wig banks” offering rehabilitated or new wigs for free or for a small fee.
  • Alternative to wigs include: hats, scarves and turbans.
  • Discuss any products with your doctor prior to use to avoid possible harm.

Skin and Nail Changes

Most skin and nail changes resulting from cancer treatment are minor and will get better once you have completed treatment. If you experience any severe redness or blistering, however, you should let your healthcare team know immediately.

Tips for Itching
  • Take quick, lukewarm showers rather than long, hot baths.
  • Use a moisturizing soap, pat dry and apply cream or lotion while your skin is still damp.
  • Try a colloidal oatmeal bath for itching all over the body.

Tips for Sun Sensitivity
  • Always wear sunscreen, including lip balm with sun protection.
  • Avoid sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Cover your skin as much as possible when you are outside.

Tips for Nail Changes
Fingernails and toenails can become dark, turn yellow, or become brittle and cracked following cancer treatment. The cuticles may also become swollen.
  • Do not bite your nails or wear fake nails.
  • Ask your doctor before you have a manicure.
  • Wear gloves when you wash dishes or do household chores.
  • Moisturize your hands and feet frequently.
  • If a nail becomes inflamed, talk to your nurse or doctor.

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