Body image is a critical psychosocial issue for patients with cancer because they often undergo significant changes to appearance and functioning. The primary purpose of this review article was to identify empirically–supported approaches to treat body image difficulties of adult cancer patients that can be incorporated into high–quality comprehensive cancer care.
An overview was provided of theoretical models of body image relevant to cancer patients, and findings were presented from published literature on body image and cancer from 2003 to 2013. These data were integrated with information from the patient–doctor communication literature to delineate a practical approach for assessing and treating body image concerns of adult cancer patients.
Body image difficulties were found across patients with diverse cancer sites, and were most prevalent in the immediate postoperative and treatment period. Age, body mass index, and specific cancer treatments have been identified as potential risk factors for body image disturbance in cancer patients. Current evidence supports the use of time–limited cognitive–behavioral therapy interventions for addressing these difficulties. Other intervention strategies also show promise but require further study. Potential indicators of body image difficulties were identified to alert health care professionals when to refer patients for psychosocial care, and a framework was proposed for approaching conversations about body image that can be used by the oncologic treatment team.
Body image issues affect a wide array of cancer patients. Providers can use available evidence combined with information from the health care communication literature to develop practical strategies for treating body image concerns of patients with cancer.