Disfigurement and amputations are the result of many cancer surgeries, especially those affecting the head and neck and the limbs.
The main treatment for head and neck cancers is surgery followed by radiation. Both procedures can cause significant damage to the facial structures, from the removal of parts of the face to burns and sores caused by radiation. These treatments can have a great impact on your self-esteem and body image and the way you feel and think about yourself and can cause considerable distress. You may be afraid to go out, afraid of rejection or feel angry or upset even if the effects of treatment may not show as much as you think. Some of the changes associated with these therapies can be:
- Dry mouth, which can make it difficult to drink or eat and can also cause cavities and sores in your mouth.
- Difficulty swallowing may occur if the structures of your mouth are compromised, and you may need a speech-language pathologist to help you improve function.
- If you have difficulty chewing or swallowing regular food, you may not get enough nourishment. Some people need a feeding tube inserted into the abdominal wall to provide nutritional food directly into the stomach.
- Decreased thyroid function or hypothyroidism can also be a consequence of treatment, necessitating the use of thyroid hormone supplements.
Tumours in the limbs can sometimes be removed completely. However, there are cases in which this is not possible and cancer treatment results in amputation. Amputations heal quite quickly compared to reconstructions and yet they have a great impact on self-esteem and body image. They also have consequences in terms of mobility and function. Amputees will probably need physiotherapy and prostheses that can be fitted to the stump. In most cases, with rehabilitation and support, patients will be able to go back to a normal life after an amputation.