If you’re one of the 18,087 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer this year in Australia, the fight against your cancer may be part of a longer fight for your overall health.
The potent tools that are often used to fight cancer, such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and radiation therapy, can have long lasting effects on your body. In particular, a portion of women who undergo breast cancer therapy find themselves in premature menopause.
Women experiencing premature menopause as a result of cancer treatment may experience menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, joint aches and night sweats. Another common symptom many women experience is vaginal dryness, which can affect a woman’s sexual enjoyment and the quality of her intimate relationships.
How does breast cancer treatment affect vaginal health?
The vagina needs adequate levels of oestrogen to maintain healthy tissue and keep vaginal walls thick and elastic. But oestrogen can also stimulate certain types of breast cancer cells, causing them to grow.
Therefore, certain therapies work to stop oestrogen from ‘feeding’ breast cancer cells. As a result, the lowered levels of oestrogen cause other, more unwelcome side-effects throughout the body, particularly in the vagina.
Maintaining your vaginal health after breast cancer treatment
Women who are breast cancer survivors or patients have many options to help keep their vagina healthy.
Vaginal care products
Vaginal moisturisers can temporarily ease symptoms of vaginal dryness and are available at any chemist. Vitamin E, either taken orally or applied as an ointment can also promote good skin health all over the body, including the vagina.
When it comes to sexual intercourse, use a water or silicone-based vaginal lubricant if you’re noticing a lower level of lubrication that is comfortable.
If you’re experiencing a high level of discomfort when attempting intercourse, you may consider using vaginal oestrogen. It comes in the form of pessaries or creams, and most act locally instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream. Although there is no definitive evidence showing that vaginal oestrogen leads to breast cancer recurrence, many women choose not to use it. If you do consider going down this road, speak with your oncologist first.
For women who are experiencing symptoms such as dryness or pain during sex, a non-hormonal treatment is available called the MonaLisa Touch.
The Mona Lisa Touch is an intra-vaginal laser that stimulates the regenerative processes of the vagina safely and quickly. It’s a 5 minute non-surgical procedure that has no down-time – women walk out of the clinic after treatment and get back to their daily routine without fuss.
It typically takes just 3-5 sessions with the MonaLisa Touch to alleviate vaginal dryness, itching and painful sex, as well as other menopausal-related symptoms such as urinary incontinence. The laser stimulates rapid turnover of the cells lining the vaginal wall, increases collagen production, and triggers the growth of new blood cells. The vagina is essentially ‘woken up’, and can soon go back to feeling normal.
Where to get further advice
Your vaginal health is incredibly important, so make sure you take care of it as best you can. If you’re experiencing symptoms of vaginal dryness, or would like to find out more about the MonaLisa Touch, speak to your GP for a referral to Northside Gynaecology.