Vaginal Dryness and Cancer
Sex, sexuality, and intimacy are just as important for people with cancer as they are for people who do not have cancer. In fact, sexuality and intimacy have been shown to help people face cancer by helping them deal with feelings of distress, and when going through treatment. But the reality is that a person's sex organs, sexual desire (sex drive or libido), sexual function, physical and emotional well-being, and body image can be affected by having cancer and cancer treatment.
Effects of Cancer Treatment on Sexual Functioning
Treatment for cancer can have a profound effect on your sex life. In fact, it is estimated that approximately half of survivors of breast cancer and other cancers that affect the pelvic area (such as the cervix, ovaries, uterus, bladder, colon, or vagina) develop long-term sexual problems. If you have not yet had your menopause you might find that your treatment brings on an early menopause. This will happen if you have any of the following treatments:
- Chemotherapy is used to destroy fast-dividing cancer cells, but it can also harm your ovaries, causing hormonal changes and temporary or permanent menopause in younger women.
- Radiotherapy to the pelvic area can also damage the ovaries and may cause an early menopause. For some women it is possible to move the ovaries out of the area where you are having radiotherapy. Your surgeon can do this with keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. This might help to prevent you from going through an early menopause. Radiation to the vagina can also irritate the delicate lining, decreasing the moisture produced with sexual excitement. Over time, scarring of the vaginal walls can make the vagina shorter and less able to expand with excitement.
- Surgery for pelvic cancer may remove parts of a woman’s sexual organs, including areas of the vulva, part or all of the vagina, and one or both ovaries. Removing both ovaries is another treatment that leads to menopause. Your surgeon might suggest leaving your ovaries behind if you have not had your menopause, but that is not always possible.
- Surgery for breast cancer may involve removing the whole breast, with or without reconstruction. Even partial mastectomy can interfere with pleasure from breast caressing if the nipple or underlying tissue was removed.
- Medicines used to treat pain, nausea, depression, or anxiety can decrease a woman’s desire for sex or make it difficult for her to reach a climax.
What are the symptoms of menopause due to Cancer treatment?
The symptoms of a menopause due to cancer treatment are the same as those of a natural menopause, but they can be more intense if it comes on suddenly. You may experience the following:
- Hot flushes and sweating
- Vaginal dryness
- Low mood or depression
- Loss of confidence and self esteem
- Thinning bones
- Loss of interest in sex
What Is and Causes Vaginal Atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy is a treatable, chronic condition that refers to the thinning of the wall of the vagina and is a common condition which results from the hormonal changes that occur at menopause. Some cancer treatments induce medical menopause by blocking or reducing the amount of the hormone oestrogen in your body. Medical menopause can be temporary or permanent depending on what treatment is being used. If menopause is induced surgically, the symptoms can be more intense especially for younger women.
Estrogen helps maintain the vagina’s moisture and elasticity. A reduction of this hormone, triggered by induced medical menopause, can cause the vagina to become dry, thin, and less supple, and may make sex or intimacy painful. If it’s not treated it can get worse and may lead to loss of sex drive and emotional problems alongside the physical ones. As with hot flashes, taking hormone supplements may help, however, sometimes these hormones are not recommended because they can promote certain types of cancer growth in female organs.
What are the options to deal with the pain?
Vaginal dryness during sexual activity at any age may simply mean that you need more stimulation and maybe even to experience orgasm before penetration. Experiment with different types of stimulation to discover what feels best and is most arousing. In fact, regular sexual activity helps maintain vaginal flexibility and pliability, presumably because it increases blood supply to the vagina and can also have a stretching effect. If these measures do not help, over the counter (non-prescripition), non-hormonal products are the first line of help.
Some women find that non-prescription treatments work well, especially for mild symptoms. Non-prescription treatments are hormone-free and have few side effects and are considered an appropriate and ideal first-line therapy.
In fact, non-prescription vaginal moisturizers are recommended as a first line treatment by the Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC). They are applied locally and act immediately. Moisturizers, unlike lubricants, are designed for internal vaginal use and provide longer lasting relief of vaginal dryness, compared to lubricants.
Did you know?
Gynatrof, a non-hormonal vaginal moisturizer, was part of a multicenter prospective interventional Canadian study to assess the feasibility, acceptability and effects of multimodal pelvic floor physical therapy for gynecological cancer survivors suffering from painful sexual intercourse. In this study, women experienced significant improvements in all outcomes after the intervention (p ≤ 0.044). They also reported being highly satisfied with the treatment (9.3/10 (SD 1.2), and 90% of them were very much or much improved.
You may feel nervous about starting your sex life again but try not to worry. You probably just need time to come to terms with all that has happened to you. If you are worried, anxious, or depressed, you are not likely to feel like having sex, so give yourself plenty of time. In fact, for most people, it just takes a little time.
Approximately half of survivors of breast cancer and other cancers that affect the pelvic area (such as the cervix, ovaries, uterus, bladder, colon, or vagina) develop long-term sexual problems, so you are certainly not alone.
Some women may feel uncomfortable discussing sexual concerns, however, your health care provider can answer questions, refer you to a specialist and help you find solutions.
It also helps to talk things over with your partner. Together you can work out what is best for you both. Remember, sexuality is an important part of being a woman.
“End your vaginal dryness today….Developing a routine with GYNATROF, that naturally rehydrates the delicate tissues of your vagina, is the secret to preventing and over-coming vaginal dryness and discomfort”
Vaginal Atrophy: You may not want to talk about Vaginal Atrophy, so we will. Click here to start the conversation.
Causes of Vaginal Atrophy: What causes vaginal dryness (vaginal atrophy)? Click here to find out!
Treatment Options for VA: Click here to find out more about both prescription and non-prescription options. It pays to be well informed!
Vaginal Health at Every Age: To keep your vagina healthy, it’s important to understand what’s going on “down there.” Click here to find out how!
Risk Factors & Triggers: Vaginal Atrophy is usually not dangerous, however if left untreated it can increase the risk for other medical problems. Click here to learn how to identify the risk factors & triggers.
Vaginal Dryness and Menopause: Menopause brings with it noticeable vaginal and vulvar changes including dryness. Click here to get informed.
Vaginal Dryness and Cancer: Treatment for cancer can have a profound effect on your vaginal tissues. Click here to learn more today.
Vaginal Dryness and Birth Control: Oral contraceptives can affect vaginal lubrication triggering discomfort, itchiness or burning, and pain during sex. Click here to get informed on what you can do.
Vaginal Dryness and Pregnancy: Pregnancy can change your body in many unexpected ways. One change you may not be aware of or that no one would have warned you about is vaginal dryness. Click here to learn more now.
Vaginal Dryness and Breastfeeding: If you’re wondering why postpartum vaginal dryness occurs, click here to find out.
Vaginal Dryness and Pessaries for Pelvic Organ Prolapse: Dryness and Pelvic organ prolapse, a type of pelvic floor disorder, can affect many women. Click here to learn more.