Ovarian Cancer

Body image

In our society there is considerable pressure on women to look attractive and many of all ages and shapes feel unhappy about aspects of their physical appearance. Although a few of the women we talked to said that what was happening to them was too serious for them to think about their appearance, many found that having ovarian cancer and the effects of treatment made them feel unhappy about their body. Women often expressed sympathy for those who were younger, or single, who they thought would have a harder time.

Many women we talked to had often felt ugly, unfeminine or unattractive during or after treatment and had tried to avoid looking in mirrors. Some felt less feminine because they no longer had their reproductive organs, even though this loss was invisible except for the operation scar, whereas others said that they didn't feel this way precisely because it was far less visible than, for example, having a breast removed. Some disliked the appearance of their operation scars. A woman who had been left without a belly button felt deformed. Another felt less of a woman because she had been left with a colostomy (see 'Surgery').

Some women were upset by losing their hair, both from their heads and their bodies, as a result of chemotherapy (see 'Unwanted effects of chemotherapy') because it reminded them and other people of their illness. However, other women found this easier to accept, and one said she enjoyed the sympathy it evoked. Others tried to avoid hair loss by the treatment choices they made (see 'Treatment decisions' and 'Clinical trials'). 

Some women were upset because they gained weight during their treatment, which they put down to the steroids they took with their chemotherapy. In addition to putting on weight and losing all her hair, one woman developed a hernia as a result of her surgery (see 'Treatment complications'), which with her scars gave her a 'comedy body'. Other women lost weight during their illness and disliked feeling 'scrawny' or, as one said, like a 'skinny little thing with no hair'.

It could be difficult to find comfortable clothes when recovering from surgery, or while weight was still yo-yoing. Despite these problems some women said they still enjoyed dressing up to go out, or made a big effort to look their best. Several described going to 'Look good feel better' beauty sessions for women receiving cancer treatment. However, some women don't like the idea of painting their faces (see 'Unwanted effects of chemotherapy'). Several women took comfort from their husbands and partners who had been very understanding and who assured them that scars and changed appearance were immaterial - the most important thing was that they were 'still there'.

Last reviewed June 2016.

Last updated June 2016.

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