Cancer has a significant impact on the Australian community and affects millions of families and their loved ones each year. According to Cancer Australia, at current incidence rates, one in three men and one in four women in Australia will develop cancer by the age of 75. By age 85, the risk increases to one in two for men and one in three for women. The most common cancers in Australia (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) are prostate, colorectal (large bowel), breast, melanoma and lung cancer.
These statistics do not paint a pretty picture; however, there is some good news. On a positive note, more than half of all cancers diagnosed in Australia are successfully treated, and survival rates for some common cancers have increased by more than 20 per cent in the past two decades. In general, Australia survival rates for cancer are high by world standards.
The number of new cancer cases is rising each year and as a result the majority of you would have been affected by cancer, be it personally or through a close family member, friend or colleague that has suffered. For those of you fighting the cancer battle or helping someone go through it, this article provides tips for improving self image through what is an extremely difficult and emotional time.
For most women, partial or total loss of hair is the most traumatic appearance change faced during cancer. Although you may not think so, it is also one of the most easily disguised. Hair-loss can occur all over the body, from the head to eyebrows and eyelashes.
Here are some tips for hair-loss on the head:
- Cut you hair before treatment – hair-loss when hair is shorter is less dramatic and thinning looks better with a shorter style.
- Visit a wig consultant before hair-loss occurs so they can best match your natural colour – synthetic wigs are best as they are easily cared for and less costly than human hair. Never brush the wig when it is wet – instead lay it on a towel inside out and let it dry naturally.
- If you are not a fan of the wig option, try scarves, hats, beanies, and turbans or similar if you wish to cover hair-loss. Make these part of your fashion statement!
- Use a mild shampoo and light hair conditioner to avoid damaging brittle hair.
- Protect your hair and head when out in the sun.
- Once the hair has grown back after treatment, avoid chemical treatments for at least six months.
Loss of eyebrows is another common side effect of chemotherapy. A brow gel creates the most natural look. To make them look fuller use an eyebrow pencil in a shade similar to your hair colour or wig colour and use the ‘dot and feather’ technique.
Loss of eyelashes or part of the eyelashes is also common. An illusion of eyelashes can be created by drawing a line with an eyeliner pencil following the eye shape completely. A small amount of eye shadow may also help. In the case of thinning eyelashes, mascara is still applicable and will make your eyes appear bigger and appear to thicken the lashes that remain.
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause fluid retention in the body. This form of swelling is generally most noticeable in the feet, ankles, hands and face. Swelling may also occur with hives as part of an allergic vascular reaction, which causes an increased ability for fluid in the cells to ‘leak’ into layers of the skin. Swelling of the airways can also be caused by chemotherapy drugs, which may lead to difficulty in breathing. It is important to seek help immediately if you are feeling symptoms of swelling of the airways and have shortness of breath.
The symptoms of fluid retention to look out for include:
· Feet and lower legs get larger when you sit or walk.
· Hands feel tight when you make a first.
· Rings are too tight.
· Abdomen appears to be swelling or distended.
· Shortness of breath (especially when lying down).
In order to manage this fluid retention and swelling the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Centre has these tips:
· Elevate your legs as much as possible.
· Do not stand for long periods of time.
· Avoid tight clothing.
· Do not cross your legs too often.
· Reduce salt intake.
· Try to eat a balanced diet.
· Wear Jobst or TED stockings.
· Take your medications exactly as prescribed.
· Diuretics may help as they work by making you urinate extra fluid – but check with your doctor before trying.
Skin is one of several areas affected by cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Dry skin is a very common problem during treatment, so this is a time to really pamper your skin. Use a gentle facial cleanser, a non-stimulating toner and a moisturiser made specifically for dry, sensitive skin. It is not a good idea to exfoliate as the skin is very tender during this time.
Sun exposure should be kept at a minimum during treatment and radiotherapy patients should check with the physician before applying creams or sunscreens to the area being treated. For those undergoing chemotherapy, a sunscreen should be applied of SPF 15 or higher before moisturising and it should be reapplied in regular intervals.
Red, blotchy skin with an uneven tone can also be the result of cancer treatments. However, help is at hand here with the use of green-based correcting concealers, which take the red out of ruddy skin. Use the green concealer on clean dry skin, after a moisturiser and then apply foundation over the top to mask the green and even out your skin tone.
Sallowness is dull yellowish skin colour. The best way to correct this is to apply a Lavender base to your skin, which will give a yellowish complexion a healthy glow and cover sallowness. Following this, foundation and powder work well. Alternatively, an easy and quick alternative for those who do not want the look of makeup is a tinted moisturiser.
Many women complain about looking tired and drawn during chemotherapy, with dark circles forming under their eyes. To hide these, use a yellow based cream concealer to neutralise bluish/purple discolouration. It is important to apply foundation over any concealer to even out your total face skin tone.
Nails can also be affected during treatment so taking the upmost of care with them at this time is important. Cuticles should not be cut – cuticle removers should be used instead. A good cuticle cream can be massaged into the cuticles to prevent dryness, splitting and hangnails. Gloves should be worn whist doing household chores and good hand cream is recommended regularly to moisturise your nails and hands.
Cancer treatment can result in a particularly dry and sensitive mouth. Plus many people suffer from mouth ulcers, which can bleed and make talking and eating a painful experience. An alcohol-free mouthwash can help with the pain, and nutrition drinks and shakes can help you get the nutrients needed when eating solid food causes pain.