Patients dealing with serious illness may want cosmetic procedures to make them look healthier, reports a small new Northwestern medicine study. Patients believe that cosmetic surgery can help them feel better in social situations with their friends, family or when they are at work.
“Patients struggling with serious illness have visible signs of their health problems, which make them feel miserable for themselves,” said senior author Dr. Murad Alam, vice president of dermatology and chief of skin and cosmetic surgery at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Cosmetic procedures that improve appearance make these patients feel better and safer at a time when they are already going through so much.”
The document, recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatologyis the first to ask sick patients why they are undergoing cosmetic procedures.
Patients diagnosed with serious medical illnesses seek cosmetic procedures to maintain their physical and mental well-being and to feel comfortable in social settings, the study reports. Patients believe that cosmetic procedures can help their reintegration into society and reinvigorate their relationships, without standing out or looking sick.
Individuals in the study included patients who had had strokes, advanced melanoma, prostate cancer, advanced cervical cancer, advanced thyroid cancer, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, among other diseases. Most of the participants reported that they sought cosmetic treatments directly because of their severe medical illness (75%) or treatment (66%). Participants’ motivations included maintaining mental well-being, improving social acceptance, counteracting aging, alleviating the impact on job success, and responding to suggestions provided by friends, family, and doctors.
A 54-year-old woman with breast cancer and droopy eyelids said: “I feel the medical treatments I have undergone have left me a little older, a little more tired than my peers.”
“After the treatment, you look in the mirror negatively,” said a 34-year-old woman with breast cancer. “You have no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, nothing. My immune system was severely low, so he looked really pale and anemic. It’s like I don’t recognize you anymore.”
The cosmetic procedures participants underwent ranged from non-invasive treatments, such as injections of neurotoxins and fillers, lasers, chemical peels, radiofrequency devices, dermabrasion and microneedling, to invasive procedures such as face lifts, liposuction and eyelid lifts.
For the study, 12 seriously ill patients who underwent cosmetic procedures after disease onset or during treatment were interviewed one-on-one by a qualified investigator. Questions were asked about what procedures they had and why. Their most important reasons have been highlighted.
Many cited the safety of non-invasive cosmetic procedures as a feature that made them more attractive. Finally, several participants said it was important for their doctor, friends and family to approve particular cosmetic treatments before proceeding.
Choosing a cosmetic procedure to mitigate the visible signs of the disease is a considered and deliberate choice made by many patients with serious medical illnesses, Alam said. Better doctor-patient communication and shared decision-making can help sick patients who are considering cosmetic procedures to arrive at solutions that best meet their needs while ensuring safety.
“These findings can help improve conversations between doctors and patients interested in obtaining cosmetic procedures, so that they have information on procedures that are safer and more useful for them,” Alam said.
Future studies could include more patients and determine whether the particular cosmetic procedures required by patients are related to their specific disease.
Cosmetic procedures increase well-being, surveys
Jessica G. Labadie et al, Patients with severe medical illnesses seek cosmetic procedures to preserve a healthy appearance and avoid looking sick, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.jaad.2021.03.021
Provided by Northwestern University
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