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Living with an ulcerating tumour

Having an ulcerating tumour can affect you emotionally as well as physically. It can help to know about these effects and how to deal with them.

Help and support

It can be hard to come to terms with the change in your body and how you see yourself. And it can be difficult to deal with the strong emotions that this cause in you.

You're not alone in feeling like this. Many people need some help and support during this difficult time.

Talking to friends and family or having counselling can help. A local cancer support group can also provide support.

You could still be dealing with your diagnosis of cancer and the side effects of treatment. Your whole life may have changed. If your cancer is advanced, you might also worry about the possibility of death and dying.

It can be frightening and hard to talk about these issues. But it’s helpful to try and express these feelings with someone that you trust.

The most common emotions you might feel if you have an ulcerating tumour include:

  • fear
  • anger
  • denial
  • depression
  • repulsion towards your body image
  • low self esteem
  • feeling embarrassed about your tumour
  • isolation

You might worry that your wound will affect relationships with family and friends.

You could have practical worries. These might be, for example, how the smell or the appearance of the wound will affect others. It can especially be hard if there are children in the family. Or you may worry that others will reject you. You might find yourself avoiding social gatherings or physical contact.

These feelings are not uncommon. It might help to remember that family members and friends often have the same feelings as you. And that they need help and advice too.

Many people find their fear of rejection disappear once they’ve spoken to loved ones. Most people want you to know they care and don't want you to feel isolated. They are only too willing to try to understand and to help if they can.

Changes in your appearance or speech problems might make you feel less confident about sex. You might feel that you can't continue to have any intimate sexual relationships.

Side effects from treatment can make you very tired and lower your sex drive (libido). You might also worry that the sight or smell of your wound will put your partner off. And you might isolate yourself from your partner because you’re afraid they will reject you.

As hard as it might seem, talking things over with your partner can help. It will take time for you both to come to terms with what has happened to you. But sharing how you feel can help.

You may prefer to talk to a specialist counsellor or a sex therapist, alone or with your partner. Your doctor can refer you if you would like this type of help.

Your partner is likely to feel worried too. They will want you to know that they still love you and do want to be near you. Remember that holding hands and talking can also bring you closer together. Knowing that your partner is sharing in your experience can be a relief. It can help you to feel less isolated and depressed.

A wound on your face and neck might affect your speech. Some facial wounds can spread into the mouth or tongue. This might make you slur your words. You’re likely to speak less if the wound is painful.

Many of us take talking for granted. Losing the ability to talk or to talk fluently can be distressing and frustrating. It will take a while to adjust to these changes. Give yourself time, and if necessary, you can find new ways of speaking and communicating.

A speech and language therapist can help and provide you with aids for communication. Carry a small notebook and pen to write notes to people if you need to.

Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself more time to get across what you want to say. Most people will be supportive and appreciate the effort you are making.

Having an ulcerating tumour can change the way you look. How you look is an important part of your self esteem. It can be very difficult to accept sudden changes in your looks.

Whether other people can see the tumour depends on where it is. A tumour on a part of the body that’s hard to cover up, such as the head or neck, can make you self conscious.

It’s not unusual for people who have an ulcerating tumour on their face to feel angry, confused and upset. You might feel worried about how your friends and family see you. Or you might think that you’re no longer as attractive to your partner.

Going out and meeting new people can be more of a struggle if you are trying to cope with changes in your appearance. If you have children, you might worry about how their friends will see you. And in turn, how this will affect your children.

It's normal to worry about these things. For most people, the important people in their lives will not see them any differently as a person.

Things that can help

The best support you are likely to get is from your close family and friends. Some people might choose not to share too much with relatives and friends. You might protect them. Or you don't want to upset them. But sharing your feelings can bring relief to you as well as your loved ones.

It might help your confidence a bit if you hide any visible dressings or wounds. You can wear:

  • scarves to hide a wound on your neck
  • hats to take the attention away from your face

Sometimes it's best not to draw attention to the affected area. Trying to do too much to hide the changes, can sometimes make it more obvious. Experiment and do what makes you feel the most comfortable.

A wound near a joint, such as in your armpit, will limit how much you can move your arm.

Genital or groin wounds can affect your mobility. Walking, going to the toilet or sitting down can be uncomfortable and difficult.

These problems will be worse if you have chronic swelling (lymphoedema) in an arm or leg. Specialist treatments for lymphoedema can help to improve the swelling. Speak to your doctor or specialist nurse. They can refer you to a lymphoedema specialist.

Last reviewed: 
16 Dec 2019
  • Palliative care - malignant skin ulcer

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

    Accessed December 2019

  • Recommendations for the Care of Patients with Malignant Fungating Wounds
    European Oncology Nursing Society, 2015

  • Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine (5th edition)

    N Cherny and others

    Oxford University Press, 2015

  • Review of patients' experiences with fungating wounds and associated qualify of life
    S Gibson and J Green
    Journal of Wound Care, May 2013. Vol 22, No 5 

  • Fungating Wounds - Multidimensional Challenge in Palliative care
    M Thomas (and others)
    Breast Care, 2011. 6: 21-24

Information and help