How Skin Cancer Affects Body Image

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and worldwide. One in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.1,2

When caught early, skin cancer is very treatable. However, the procedures and surgical operations to remove skin cancer can leave marks and scars that can affect how a person’s body looks and feels. These changes may impact body image and self-esteem, especially in the days and weeks following surgery.3

Treatment for skin cancer

Effective skin cancer treatment depends on a variety of different factors, including:4

  1. A person’s overall health
  2. The type of skin cancer
  3. The stage of cancer or how widespread it is in the body
  4. Where on the body the cancer is located

There are several different forms of skin cancer treatment. Some of the more common ones include:4

  1. Simple excision – the tumor is cut from the skin
  2. Shave excision – the tumor is shaved off the surface of the skin
  3. Mohs micrographic surgery (MMS) – the tumor is cut from the skin in layers
  4. Cryotherapy – the tumor and/or cancerous tissue is frozen off
  5. Laser surgery – the cancerous tissue is cut off with a laser, a narrow beam of intense light

How skin cancer can affect emotional health

The scarring left from skin cancer treatment can take a year or more to fully heal. These markings, especially if they are visible on the face or neck, can impact how a person views themselves.

For instance, a person may view their scar(s) as ugly or unattractive. It could also trigger feelings of weakness or vulnerability. This loss of self-confidence and poor body image can, over time, result in anxiety, depression, and social isolation.5

Fortunately, according to a 2018 study, people who received Mohs micrographic surgery to treat their skin cancer reported improved body image after 6 months. This shows that as people healed, their feelings toward their body and their self-confidence improved over time.6

How skin cancer affects body image

It is common and completely normal to view yourself differently after receiving skin cancer treatment. Fostering a new relationship with your body following a skin cancer diagnosis is no easy feat. Here are 5 ways to help you cope:7,8

  1. Give yourself time to adapt. No matter how advanced your skin cancer is, having any form of cancer diagnosis is life-changing. Healing from surgery requires time and patience. Be kind and compassionate, and allow yourself time to adjust.
  2. Get help from family and friends. A close network can help support you as you cope. Reach out to loved ones to share what you are going through. They can remind you how strong and resilient you are during this cancer journey.
  3. Stay active. Regular exercise and physical activity improve mood and energy levels. Aim to move your body each day, whether that means going for a walk, gardening in your backyard, going for a swim or attending a fitness class.
  4. Try a support group. It can be helpful to talk with other cancer survivors who are going through a similar experience. Speak with your healthcare team about support groups available near you.
  5. Seek counseling. A trained professional can help you navigate through tough emotions in a mindful and healthy way.

Having skin cancer and getting treatment for it does not have to derail your self-confidence and positive self-image. While it can be difficult to cope in the short term, the good news is that overall mental health tends to improve in the long term.

Remember to be patient while you heal. Seek support from your community, other cancer survivors, and/or a counselor if you need help and take care of your body by exercising and staying active.

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