Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Joretha N. Bourjolly, PhD.

Second Advisor

Ram A. Cnaan, PhD.

Third Advisor

Terry A. Badger, PhD., RN, FAAN


ABSTRACT AN EXPLORATION OF APPEARANCE-RELATED ISSUES OF BREAST CANCER TREATMENT ON SENSE OF SELF, SELF-ESTEEM, AND SOCIAL FUNCTIONING IN WOMEN WITH BREAST CANCER Margaret M. Preston Joretha N. Bourjolly We, as individuals, and in most cases, become the designers of our external appearance. Through hair styles, cosmetics, grooming behaviors, tattoos, piercing, and our style of dress, our outward appearance sends messages about ourselves to others. This outward appearance is the primary focus in identity recognition and first impressions. As humans, we are influenced by our social interactions and the impressions we give and receive from others. To date, very little attention has been given related to altered appearance in women who are receiving treatment for breast cancer. The personal impact of appearance-related changes due to cancer treatment can be devastating for most women. The importance of looking like yourself (the “you” that you created) throughout the cancer process has received little attention by the social work profession. The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study is to describe the appearance-related issues involving breast cancer treatment and whether they affect one’s sense of self, social functioning, and self-esteem from the women themselves. Twelve women (N=12) who had been treated for breast cancer participated in audio taped interviews. The analysis of the interviews revealed that appearance-related issues resulting from breast cancer treatment were a major source of disruption of the women’s sense of self which affected their self-esteem and areas of social functioning. The findings were consistent with interpersonal, cognitive behavioral, and status generalization theories which describe that people are social in nature, require acceptance by others, and can be discriminated against based on their appearance. Often times altered appearance can lead to misperceptions or assumptions about oneself and how one feels they are being perceived by others. The rich description provided in this study identifies the need to further investigate appearance-related issues resulting from breast cancer treatment to gain an understanding of how social workers can better serve this population.