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Patients with major medical illnesses may choose cosmetic surgery

Looking healthy is important for some people with serious illnesses, and there are those who turn to cosmetic surgery to achieve this goal, according to new research from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.

The small study of 12 patients, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, is believed to be the first to ask patients with serious illnesses why they are willing to undergo cosmetic procedures. Patients included had experienced stroke, chronic myelogenous leukemia, breast cancer, hemochromatosis, axial spondyloarthritis, advanced melanoma, prostate cancer, advanced cervical cancer, advanced thyroid cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, among other illnesses.

Choosing a cosmetic procedure to mitigate the visible signs of disease is a well-thought-out and deliberate choice made by many patients with major medical illnesses, reported senior author Dr. Murad Alam, vice chair of dermatology and chief of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The 12 patients were interviewed one-on-one by a trained investigator. The average length of an interview was 41 minutes. They were asked questions about their procedures and why they underwent those procedures. The goal of the study was to better understand the motivations of patients with major medical illnesses seeking cosmetic procedures so that dermatologists may be in a better position to help them through their disease journey.

Reasons driving these decisions to seek cosmetic treatment were directly related to their major medical illness (75%) or treatment (66%). Their motivations included maintaining mental well-being, enhancing social acceptance, counteracting aging, alleviating impact on work success and responding to suggestions from friends, family and doctors.

The cosmetic procedures included noninvasive treatments, such as neurotoxin and filler injections, lasers, chemical peels, radiofrequency devices, dermabrasion and microneedling, to invasive procedures including facelifts, liposuction and eyelid lifts.

Many patients cited the safety of noninvasive cosmetic procedures as a feature that made these procedures more attractive. Several participants said it was important for their doctor, friends and family to endorse particular cosmetic treatments before they proceeded.

“Patients dealing with serious illnesses have visible signs of their health problems, which make them feel unhappy about themselves,” said Dr. Alam in a press release. “Cosmetic procedures that improve appearance make these patients feel better and more confident during a time when they are already going through so much.”

These findings may help improve conversations between physicians and patients who are interested in getting cosmetic procedures, so that they have information on procedures that are most safe and helpful for them.”


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