Coping with Changes to Your Body as a Young Adult

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2019

Watch the Moving Forward video on Body Changes, adapted from this content.

Your body image is how you feel about the way you look. Cancer and its treatment can change how you look and feel about yourself. Coping with these changes is part of dealing with cancer.

If you are a teenager, your body is already changing. Trying to figure out which changes are part of normal development and which are from cancer can be confusing. Cancer and its treatment can also affect the normal changes your body goes through. For example, cancer or its treatment can slow down your growth, delay the start of your menstrual period, or make acne more difficult to treat.

Common body changes from cancer

Below are some of the side effects of cancer and its treatment that young adults and teenagers commonly have:

Learn more about managing physical side effects.

Changes and your body image

At times, you could feel self-conscious or ashamed about changes in your body even if no one can see them. But you might also notice some positive changes. For example, you might:

  • Appreciate your body's ability to tolerate treatment and recover

  • Discover that your weight or body shape matters less than before

  • See your scars as signs of courage and survival

  • Feel inspired to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Coping with changes to your body

You might be sad or angry about physical changes. They might be depressing or even frightening. Give yourself time and space to grieve and get upset when you need to. Here are some ways to help you cope with the changes.

  • Ask your doctor what to expect before treatment starts. This can help you mentally prepare ahead of time. You can also do practical things, such as cutting your hair or buying hats if you are likely to lose your hair.

  • Ask other people how they adjusted to body changes. Joining a support group or talking to a cancer survivor can help.

  • Be prepared for questions and comments about your appearance. Think about how you will respond. If you prefer not to talk about it, tell people that it is personal.

  • Remember that cancer cannot take away your personality, interests, or talents. You might even discover a new talent or strength.

  • Eat healthy and get enough sleep. Ask your doctor about drinking alcohol and any limits on your diet.

  • Get regular exercise. Sometimes, you might not be able to do all the activities that you did before cancer. But there may be new types of exercise and activities for you to explore. Trying a new activity can help you gain confidence in your body. Ask your doctor about any limits on your physical activity.

  • Ask for a referral to a physical therapist or fitness coach. They can help you cope with physical problems and learn how to function with your changed body. Learn more about rehabilitation.

  • Protect your skin from the sun. Cancer treatment might make it more sensitive.

  • Let your health care team know about your concerns and questions. You can also talk to a counselor or an oncology social worker.

Fertility and sex

Some cancer treatments may affect your ability to have children. If you think you might want children in the future, talk with your doctor about how the cancer and its treatment might affect your fertility, or ability to have children.

There are ways for both men and women to protect their fertility. But you need to do this before treatment starts for the best chance of success. Also, make sure you or your parents keep the information on this for future doctors. Learn more about fertility, sex, and reproductive health in another area of this website.

It is important to avoid unprotected sex or pregnancy during cancer treatment. Your partner can get sick from chemotherapy or other drugs in your body, and cancer treatment can severely harm an unborn child. Talk with your doctor about preventing pregnancy and keeping your partner safe during your treatment.

Related Resources

Self-Image and Cancer

Cancer and Intimate Relationships

More Information

American Cancer Society: Caring for Your Appearance

Fighting Pretty

Look Good Feel Better