Body Images in Oncology
CRAIG A. WHITE
Cancer and cancer treatments can significantly change appearance and bodily integrity, particularly in some cancers. Much of the literature on body image and cancer is observational, atheoretical, and anecdotal. Though more empirical research has recently emerged, it is often of poor quality, resulting in inconsistent findings.
Interpreting results has been difficult due to use of poorly validated measures. Definitions of body image have often been tautologous (e.g., "positive," "negative," "secure," "insecure"), and distinctions among multiple body image dimensions have not been made. Additionally, the term "body image" has been used to refer to related constructs, such as sexuality, self-esteem, stigma, and self-consciousness, and has been defined too broadly to permit meaningful investigation.
These problems have compromised assessment and treatment of body image problems in oncology patients. It is clear, nevertheless, that many people with cancer experience appearance and body integrity concerns. Fortunately, researchers are beginning to specify in greater detail the psychological constructs necessary for understanding how body image is affected by oncological conditions.
For some people the distress associated with cancer centers on appearancerelated changes that may act as persistent reminders of the disease. Such distress can trigger preexisting vulnerabilities to psychological disorders and