Health care providers are adept at
addressing the immediate challenges of
the disease. However, whether it’s because
of time constraints or a lack of expertise,
few take these lasting issues into account,
says Mary Jane Esplen, a psycho-oncologist
at the University of Toronto in Canada.
In group and individual therapy sessions,
Esplen heard from breast cancer survivors
who had modified their lifestyles because
of how they felt about their bodies; some
had given up swimming, some were getting
dressed in the dark and some sought to
avoid seeing themselves in mirrors.
To learn how the cancer community
might start to address this issue, Esplen
and her colleagues designed an approach
to therapy that combined eight weeks of
group sessions with guided imagery that
focused on body image and education about
social and cultural factors related to it.
There were 131 breast cancer survivors par-
ticipating in the program, while a separate
group of 63 women just read educational
materials about body image. In a paper
published in the March 10, 2018, Journal of
Clinical Oncology, the researchers reported
that in as little as eight weeks, women
who had been part of the group therapy
sessions had fewer concerns about their
appearance and body image than those
who received the educational materials
without additional support.
Body image issues may not be the most
pressing concern at the beginning of a
cancer journey, but they can have a dra-
matic effect on survivors’ quality of life.
Failure to address these issues is “really
getting in the way of women’s ability
to cope and adapt to a life-threatening
illness,” says Esplen. “People are living
longer with cancer, and these are the
issues they are facing every day.” She and
her colleagues are developing an online
version of the treatment program to allow
for expanded access. —CAMERON WALKER
Cancer treatments aim to knock out disease, but they can have a negative effect on the way women with breast cancer feel about heir bodies. From chemotherapy-related hair loss to breast-
altering surgery, the effects of cancer treatments change a person’s
body, which can cause grief and loss, diminished self-esteem and other
psychological issues. These problems may affect as many as 75 percent of
women with breast cancer.
CONCERNS ABOUT PHYSICAL APPEARANCE CAN BE
A MAJOR OBSTACLE DURING CANCER RECOVERY.
BETTER BODY IMAGE
Cancer survivors can call upon
various resources to help get support.
• If your health care provider
does not ask about body image
concerns, be proactive and bring
up the issue, says Mary Jane
Esplen, a psycho-oncologist at the
University of Toronto in Canada.
“It’s totally [your] right, and it’s
part of cancer care.”
• If your provider or clinic does
not have support groups
available, the Cancer Support
Community can help you find
support through its toll-free
number, 1-888-793-9355, and
via its online support groups.
• The Look Good Feel Better
program helps women with
all types of cancer reclaim
their appearance, assisting
with makeup and wardrobe,
and offering other resources
during treatment. Workshops
are available at cancer centers
in the U.S. and internationally,
and tips are available online.