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Changes in appearance and personality

Having a terminal illness can mean that your appearance changes over time. These changes might be due to being unwell or as a side effect of your treatments. You may also experience changes to your personality.

On this page:

Changes to your appearance

Changes often depend on the nature of your illness and treatments you’ve had. For example, if you’ve had chemotherapy or targeted therapy you may notice your nails become brittle or flaky. They may develop white lines or their colour or shape may change.

Your skin can become dry, develop sore patches or change colour. It can also become particularly sensitive to toiletries or cosmetics.  Some treatments, like steroids, can make you gain weight, however, many people lose their appetite and this can mean they also lose weight.

Other changes may occur towards the end of life. At this time people can develop very pale, moist skin and their hands and feet may be very cold and bluish in colour.

Managing changes to your appearance

You may find it upsetting if your appearance has changed, for example if you’ve lost or put on weight. You may find it helpful to talk about how you’re feeling with your carers or nurses. They might be able to suggest ways to help you make the most of your appearance and feel better.

An organisation called Look Good, Feel Better   runs free skincare and make-up workshops in hospitals and cancer care centres throughout the UK, given by qualified beauty volunteers.

Changes to your personality

Living with a terminal illness can affect your personality in different ways. Some of these changes may be quite small, like feeling more tired and less enthusiastic about some activities you previously enjoyed.

Some people may feel symptoms of insecurity or paranoia, for example not trusting other people or feeling that they are being unkind or insensitive.

Other changes can be more significant, like anxiety and depression, for example. If you need help speak to your doctor or nurse.

External websites

NHS website   – end of life care

Look Good, Feel Better  

About this information

This information is not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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