The nature and extent of body image concerns among surgically treated patients with head and neck cancer

Psychooncology. 2012 Aug;21(8):836-44. doi: 10.1002/pon.1990. Epub 2011 Jun 27.


Background: The purpose of this study was to describe body image concerns for surgically treated patients with head and neck cancer and evaluate the relationship between body image concerns and quality of life outcomes.

Methods: Data were obtained from 280 patients undergoing surgical treatment for head and neck cancer. We used a cross-sectional design and obtained data from individuals at different time points relative to initiation of surgical treatment. Participants completed the Body Image Scale, the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Scale-Head and Neck Version, and a survey designed for this study to evaluate disease-specific body image issues, satisfaction with care regarding body image issues, and interest in psychosocial intervention.

Results: Body image concerns were prevalent in the majority of participants with 75% acknowledging concerns or embarrassment about one or more types of bodily changes at some point during treatment. Significant associations were found between body image concerns and all major domains of quality of life. Age, gender, cancer type, time since surgery, and body image variables were significantly associated with psychosocial outcomes. A clear subset of participants expressed dissatisfaction with care received about body image issues and/or indicated they would have liked additional resources to help them cope with body image changes.

Conclusions: These data provide useful information to document wide-ranging body image difficulties for this population and provide important targets for the development of relevant psychosocial interventions.

Keywords: body image; head and neck cancer; psychosocial oncology; quality of life.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Sex Factors