A woman’s fight to beat breast cancer is filled with physical and psychological challenges. Even after the fight is won, side effects of breast cancer treatments can still affect a survivor’s quality of life.
One such issue is vaginal atrophy. This cruel condition can severely affect libido, self esteem, and the relationship with a spouse or partner.
In a report commissioned by the Breast Cancer Network Australia, up to 89% of women surveyed reported significant changes in their sexual wellbeing after going through breast cancer treatment. However, it’s estimated that less than 20% of breast cancer survivors seek medical help for urogenital issues.
In this article we’ll explain the connection between breast cancer, oestrogen, and vaginal atrophy. Then we’ll explore treatment options that relieve suffering and improve quality of life.
How Can Breast Cancer Treatments Affect The Vagina?
As around 70% of breast cancers are sensitive to oestrogen, treatments for breast cancer such as chemotherapy and endocrine therapy aim to shut down the production of the female sex hormone. While this is proving to be an effective strategy as breast cancer survival rates in Australia are improving, oestrogen deficiency can trigger menopausal symptoms in some women.
Women might develop symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, night sweats, and vaginal atrophy. Post menopausal women may experience a worsening of their symptoms. These symptoms usually naturally occur with age, but may also occur in younger women undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
What is Vaginal Atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy is a condition that sometimes occurs with the significant drop of oestrogen after menopause.
The vagina needs adequate levels of oestrogen to maintain healthy tissue. Without enough oestrogen, the tissues inside the vagina become thinner, drier, and lose their elasticity. As a result, women may experience uncomfortable symptoms such as dryness and irritation, painful chafing, tightening of the vagina, and frequent yeast infections or urinary tract infections.
The psychological effects of vaginal atrophy can be incredibly difficult to endure. Regular pain and discomfort around the vagina and labia – a woman’s most sensitive area – can greatly affect quality of life. Everyday tasks such as going to the toilet, wearing underwear, and even just moving around can cause distress.
If that wasn’t bad enough, vaginal atrophy can have a devastating effect on a healthy sex life. Sex can become very painful, which inhibits the ability to enjoy sexual pleasure, and can put strain on romantic relationships.
The Problem With Many Common Treatments
Many women who want to fight the symptoms of menopause undergo hormonal therapy to replace their missing oestrogen. However, as many breast cancers thrive on oestrogen, Hormone Replacement Treatment (HRT) is strongly discouraged for women with a history of breast cancer.
This leaves other options such as topical oestrogen in the forms of creams or pessaries. Many women are reluctant to use these treatments, as they understandably don’t want to absorb oestrogen back into their bodies, even in small amounts.
Most non-hormonal treatments such as cool washes or compresses, vagisil cream, vaginal moisturisers and lubricants, natural oils and pelvic floor exercises offer lacklustre outcomes for many women.
Fortunately, there is another option. It’s called The MonaLisa Touch.
MonaLisa Touch Treatment
The MonaLisa Touch is a treatment for vaginal atrophy that is non-hormonal, which makes it an excellent option for women with a history of breast cancer. The MonaLisa Touch is an intra-vaginal laser that improves vaginal function and health by stimulating the growth of blood vessels, increasing collagen production, and encouraging the vagina to produce moisture.
It’s a 5 minute, pain free procedure delivered over a course of three treatments delivered 4-6 weeks apart. Treatments have no disruptive or adverse effects – patients can go straight back to work or finish their day as normal after treatment.
What’s more, the MonaLisa laser is incredibly effective and totally safe. Various studies have reported improvements of up to 86% in symptoms such as dryness, itching or stinging, and sensitivity during sex.
What to do next
Your vaginal health and sexual wellbeing are important contributors to a good quality of life. So if you’re suffering from symptoms of vaginal atrophy, please don’t suffer in silence! Northside Gynaecology is an all-women practice offering advice, treatment and support for a wide range of gynaecological issues. Book an appointment at one of our convenient Brisbane locations by calling us on 07 3088 9005.