Body image after treatment for colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer and its treatment can affect how you feel about your body. It is normal to feel anger, frustration, or disappointment after surgery or during treatment for cancer.

Problems you may have include:

  • General pain, fatigue, and discomfort from cancer treatment.
  • Psychological changes such as depression, confusion, anxiety, guilt, and stress. These problems bother many people after treatment is over.
  • Damage to or removal of nerves, blood vessels, or organs.
  • Incontinence (inability to control urine or stool).
  • Sexual problems that may be caused by surgery or radiation therapy.
  • Embarrassment and hygiene challenges caused by a colostomy and the need to wear a colostomy bag.

People who are recovering from cancer often fear that sexual activities may have caused their cancer or that further sexual activity might cause the cancer to return or be passed on to their partner. Neither is true. Sexual activities do not cause colorectal cancer, and colorectal cancer cannot be passed from one person to another.

Sexual problems can have physical or psychological causes. You may have less sexual pleasure. You may lose your desire to have sex. Depression or a feeling that your body has changed may cause or add to these feelings. People who do not have partners often stop dating altogether because they feel that a potential partner might reject them because of their history of cancer.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about these feelings. He or she can answer your questions and refer you to organizations that can offer additional support and information. Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or call 1-800-227-2345 to find a support group in your area. Talking with other people who have had similar feelings can be very helpful. Talking openly about your concerns with your partner may also help.

Last Updated: October 1, 2008

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