Changes in your appearance after nasal and sinus cancer
This page is about possible changes to your appearance after surgery for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. You can find the following information
Changes in your appearance after nasal and sinus cancer
Surgery involving your jaw, mouth, nose, lips, eye or neck may change the way you look. This can affect the way you feel about yourself, and how you think others see you. It is not unusual for people who have had surgery to their face to feel very angry, confused and upset for some time afterwards. It is important to remember that those most important to you will not view you any differently as a person.
Modern surgical techniques and reconstructive surgery are improving all the time. It’s less likely that you will have to deal with so much scarring, even with very big operations. Your surgeons will do all they can to make incisions on your face inside the creases already there. And with time, many scars will fade. If you have bones removed from your face, your surgeon can often reconstruct them so that your appearance will change as little as possible. They will use bone grafts from other parts of your body to do this.
Surgery to the lips, nose and eye is harder to hide. So if your cancer involves these areas, it is likely that you will have to cope with changes in the way you look. Your doctors and nurses will help support you with this.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with nasal cancer section.
Surgery that involves your jaw, mouth, nose, lips, eye or neck may change the way you look. But modern surgical techniques and reconstructive surgery are improving all the time. It’s less likely that you will have to deal with so much scarring, even with very big operations. But if you do, it can be very distressing for you. And understandably it can affect the way you feel about yourself and how you think others see you.
Your surgeons will do all they can to make incisions on your face inside the creases already there. And with time, many scars will fade and be far less visible. You may still be very aware of them but others may not even notice. If you need to have bones removed from your face, your surgeon can often reconstruct them so that your appearance will change as little as possible. They will use bone grafts from other parts of your body to do this.
Surgery to the lips, nose and eye is harder to hide. So if your cancer involves these areas, it is likely that you will have to cope with changes in the way you look. These could be big or small changes to your appearance. But both are hard to cope with and can affect the way you might view yourself.
How you look has an important affect on your self esteem. It can be very hard to accept sudden changes in your looks that you are not happy with. It is not unusual for people who have had surgery to their face to feel very angry, confused and upset for some time after their surgery. You may feel worried about how your friends and family see you. You may worry about being physically attractive to your partner.
Going back to work, meeting new people and going for job interviews can all be more of a struggle if you are trying to cope with changes in your appearance. If you have children you may worry how they will see you and how this might affect them.
It’s perfectly normal to worry about any of these things. The important thing to remember is that those most important to you will not view you any differently as a person. They will want to support you as much as they can, so let them in on how you are feeling. Shutting them out will only make you feel more isolated and less able to cope with things.
There are several things that may help you cope with changes in your looks. They may not take away all the emotional pain but they can make things easier. They include
- Talking to your surgeon and nurse specialist before surgery
- Talking to someone who has had a similar experience
- Looking at yourself in the mirror
- Doing things in your own time
- Talking to those close to you
- Tips to help hide changes
- Getting help and support
This is probably one of the most important things you can do. Even if you feel at the time that you don't want to know exactly what the surgeon will do, it really will help you to cope later on. Ask your surgeon to be very honest with you, find out exactly what they are going to do and how you will look.
You are likely to be swollen and sore immediately after your surgery, but try to remember this is only temporary and not how you will look forever. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Your surgeon and specialist nurse will be aware of how worried you are about changes in your appearance and will be able to reassure you where possible.
This may not help everyone so do not feel you have to do this. But some people find it very helpful and reassuring to speak with someone else who has had to cope with surgery that changes the way they look. Your surgeon or nurse specialist may be able to put you in touch with someone who has had a similar operation to yours. Or the specialist organisations for head and neck disease or injury may be able to help.
Your first reaction after your surgery may be to not look at yourself. This is a completely normal reaction, and when you do have a look is really up to you. It is usually better to wait until a few days after your operation when you have recovered a bit and feel more awake and alert. When you do feel ready to look, it is much better if you have someone with you, such as your doctor or nurse.
Even if you thought you had an idea about how you were going to look, it can still come as a shock. Your face is likely to be swollen and a bit numb. You may also have to deal with seeing stitches and changes to your facial structure. So it is best that someone is there to support you through this and answer any of your questions.
Many people feel very angry at first and wish that they had never had the operation. You may feel that the surgeon had not prepared you enough for what you have seen. Just give yourself a bit of time to let it all sink in.
It might be hard to imagine right then but you will feel a bit better about things as time goes on and swelling and bruising settles. The staff will be very aware of how you are feeling. They will do all they can to reassure you about healing and where you can get help and support if you feel you need it.
Do not be surprised if your family and friends do not know what to say to you. They will not want to make you feel anxious or say anything that might upset you. It is often easier if you bring up the subject and let them know how you feel about things. It is also a good idea to keep looking at your face every so often. The more you can come to terms with your new face, the less worried you are likely to feel about how others are seeing you.
It is important to give yourself some time to adjust to things if you do have any major changes in your appearance. But there will come a time when you will need to go out again and meet people, perhaps go back to work and do everyday things like shopping.
This may feel very scary at first and you may be tempted to keep putting it off. But it is important to push yourself a bit, as this will help keep you positive and stop you feeling low. There is information about coping when you feel low in the symptom control section.
When you first go outside, go with someone you trust and feel very comfortable with. Be prepared for mixed reactions from those you meet. People’s reactions can vary depending on how well you know them, but even good friends might react differently to how you were expecting. Try to prepare yourself that some people’s reactions may show on their face no matter how hard they try to disguise it.
Others will be very at ease and make you feel comfortable very quickly. There is not much you can do to change other people's reactions. But if you are at ease, they will be more likely to feel they can talk to you or look you in the eye.
If you do get a reaction that really upsets you, hang in there - it will get easier, and remember that they were not meaning to upset you. Children can often be very honest and ask quite direct questions like “What happened to your face?”, or “Why does that man look funny?”. You should try to be prepared for this too.
Don't feel that you have to explain too much to people if you don't want to. After all, it is your body and if you don't feel like satisfying someone’s curiosity, you don’t have to.
The best support you are likely to get is from your close family and friends. Some people may choose not to share too much, because they don’t want to upset others. But you may be surprised how much it can help just to share your feelings.
If you are having problems with your intimate and sexual relationships because you feel that you are no longer attractive, try letting your partner know how you are feeling. There is more about this in the section on changes in your sex life in this section.
You may not need make up to help cover up scars. But if you have had any skin grafts to your face and neck, the skin may not look the same colour as the rest of your face. There is make up designed to fix this. It is called camouflage make up and your surgeon or GP can prescribe it for you. There are different colours for all skin tones. Organisations that can teach you how to apply it, or advise on the best products to buy include
Some head and neck clinical nurse specialists are also trained in applying this make up and will be able to give you a lesson or two.
There are several other ways that you can hide changes, these include wearing
- Scarves to hide any scars on your neck
- Hats to take the attention away from your face
- Sunglasses to help hide changes to your eyes caused by surgery
Sometimes it’s best not to draw attention to the affected area, and trying to do too much to hide scars or changes may not always help. Experiment and do what makes you feel most comfortable.
Not everyone feels able to ask for outside help and support, but many people find it very useful. There are a number of organisations and support groups that help people cope with changes in physical appearance. These include
- Changing Faces, an organisation that helps people cope with disfigurements affecting the face
- Let’s Face It, a non profit organisation that links people to resources that can help them cope better with facial disfigurements
If you would like to talk to someone outside your own circle of friends and family, look on our page about counselling organisations. And you can read about what counselling is in our main coping with cancer section.
There are books and booklets on talking about cancer, some of which are free. Look at our reading list for nasal and sinus cancer.
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