Taking care of your body

How will cancer affect how you look?

You may be concerned about how your cancer and its treatment will affect your physical appearance. Side effects like hair loss, swelling, weight gain or weight loss, and darkened nails may occur during treatment. These side effects may change your appearance, but the changes will most likely be temporary.

Increased appetite or weight gain

You may experience weight gain as a result of increased appetite or fluid retention (bloating) associated with certain drug therapies. Eating well helps people living with cancer feel better and stay stronger during and after cancer treatment. If you eat well and keep or achieve a healthy weight, you will usually manage the side effects of treatment better. Good nutrition also helps the body replace blood cells and healthy tissues that are damaged as a result of cancer treatment. Weight-loss diets are not recommended without proper medical guidance. For help, ask your oncologist to refer you to a dietitian who can design an appropriate diet for you. Or, contact us to speak with a Community Services Manager for other nutrition resources.
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Increased appetite or weight gain
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Loss of appetite and cancer

Loss of appetite or weight loss

Your cancer and the treatment for it may increase your body’s need for calories and protein. Chemotherapy, certain other drug therapies and radiation therapy create a need for more calories and protein. Side effects of your treatment, such as loss of appetite, nausea, mouth sores and taste changes, may also make it a challenge for you to take in enough calories and protein.

Decreased appetite can be very challenging and distressing especially when it results in weight loss. It can be difficult for you to cope with a decreased or changed appetite or suddenly disliking foods you once liked. If your appetite continues to be poor, your doctor may wish to try an appetite stimulant.

Your hair

Some types of cancer treatments can cause hair loss (called “alopecia”). Talk to your doctor about whether your treatment may result in hair loss so you will know what to expect.

With chemotherapy, hair loss can range from hair thinning to baldness and may be sudden or slow. You may also lose hair from other areas of your body including your eyelashes, eyebrows and pubic hair. Hair growth typically resumes after treatment ends. After treatment, your hair’s thickness, texture, and color may be different from before treatment.

Radiation therapy can also cause hair loss, but unlike chemotherapy, it only affects the specific area that is being treated. Hair loss may be temporary or permanent. Often, with lower doses of radiation, hair loss is temporary, and hair grows back. Treatment with very high doses of radiation may cause hair to grow back thinner or not at all in that spot.
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Your hair after cancer
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Your Skin and Cancer

Your skin

Some cancer treatments may affect your skin and put you at increased risk of sunburn. Your doctor can advise you how to protect your skin and prevent infections. Tell your doctor about any changes to your skin including:

• Dry skin
• Redness
• Itchiness
• Skin lesions

Tell your doctor immediately if you notice:

• Sudden or severe itching, rash and/or hives – these may be signs of an allergic reaction
• Red, swollen or tender skin and/or discharge from skin, especially around a wound, sore, rash or IV catheter site – these may be signs of an infection.

If you experience any skin changes, see your doctor as soon as possible. Some changes are related to the primary cancer or infection, and treatment for these side effects can make you more comfortable and prevent serious problems from developing. Your doctor can recommend or prescribe appropriate treatment including topical solutions (creams, lotions or gels) to soothe your skin or relieve itching.

Your fingernails and toenails

You may notice some changes to your nails on your hands and feet. For example,

• Nails may darken, crack or become brittle.
• White ridges or bands of discoloration may appear along the nails.
• Nail beds may darken.

It is possible, although rare, that you may lose all or part of your fingernails and toenails. Except in extremely rare cases, nails will grow back or return to normal after chemotherapy ends. Monitor what you notice and talk to you doctor about any changes in your nails.
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Your fingernails and toenails and cancer
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Your Sexuality and cancer

Your sexuality

Concerns about sexuality may arise from the physical aspects of your disease or treatment. Some physical effects get better over time or when treatment ends. Other effects may be long lasting. Whatever your concern may be, members of your cancer care team can give you referrals to other healthcare professionals. A consultation with a gynecologist, urologist or family physician, an oncology social worker or a certified sex therapist may also be helpful. Contact us to speak with a Community Services Manager in your area for local support, including information about maintaining intimacy in your relationships and ways you can feel more attractive. You may find value in talking to cancer survivors to learn how they're dealing with self-image issues and other aspects of their sexuality.

Resources

Caring for your skin, nails, hair and mouth

Factsheet
Learn how to care for skin, nails, hair, and mouth during and after cancer treatments.
download

Managing Low Blood Cell Counts

Factsheet
Learn about low blood cell counts, understand the four conditions associated with a low blood cell count and treatments
download

Understanding cancer related fatigue and brain fog

Booklet
Learn about chemo brain and fatigue due to treatments, what it means, causes, side effects and how to cope.
download

Reducing your risk of infection

Factsheet
Learn about infections, understand the signs of an infection and what you can do to prevent an infection
download