Reclaiming Your Sexual Self after Cancer Treatment
By Michael Krychman, MD FACOG
The incidence of cancer and chronic medical conditions is staggering in the female population, and it has been estimated that up to one out of three women will be diagnosed with cancer during her lifetime. Surviving cancer and its treatments will certainly change a woman’s outlook on life. But when it’s time to start experiencing life again to its fullest potential, a large percentage of women may face painful vaginal dryness, painful intercourse diminished sexual desire, a lack of sexual confidence, and even trouble reaching orgasm.
More than 90 percent of cancer patients complain of sexual side effects relating to their treatment. Experiencing these sexual concerns is far from uncommon. Re-establishing closeness and intimacy shared during sex may help alleviate some of the stress associated with battling debilitating effects of cancer.
Women are often ill informed about vaginal dryness and painful intercourse and not given the information they so desperately need and want. Women tend to suffer in silence, believing that the pain and body changes they are experiencing are a normal part of aging and they just need to grin and bear it. The reality is there are many simple and safe solutions to remedy the situation.
Chemotherapy, often part of the prescribed treatment for cancer patients, is often attributable for many of women’s sexual concerns including a negative body image, loss of libido, the onset of early menopause, and numerous hormonal imbalances. Severe vaginal dryness occurs due to chemotherapy, premature chemical or surgical menopause, coupled with anti-estrogen drugs used to treat their cancer. Other women may have radiation as part of their treatment regime. Radiation in the pelvic area can cause soreness and irritation and changes in the vaginal lining. Some women have experienced skin damage with fibrosis and itchy dry skin once it has been irradiated.
Many women prefer to start with a non-hormonal treatment method to help treat their vaginal and or vulvar dryness. They consciously opt for conservative treatments. Choosing a vaginal moisturizer or lubricant may be a daunting task. While there are many product choices to choose from, there are some practical guidelines to help make the right choice. It remains important to read the labels of products and focus on the fine print. Understand what the ingredients and additives are in the product. It may also be helpful to avoid colors, flavors, bactericides, spermicides or warming gels. These components may irritate the sensitive and dry vaginal and vulvar tissue.
Many women find that conservative non hormonal interventions such as Lubrigyn Cream®, meet all their criteria. It is a non-hormonal vaginal moisturizer that is made with high quality ingredients including hyaluronic acid and elastin. It helps the vaginal tissue reclaim its ridges, folds, elasticity and pliability. Lubrigyn Cleansing Lotion® may also fit in a woman’s overall pelvic rehabilitation treatment schema. It is a soothing cleanser that can ease skin discomfort while gently cleansing the area.
Finding the strength to break the silence about your need for sexual satisfaction and bridging the communication gap is critical to regaining control of your sexual self. Start with a heart-to-heart conversation with your partner, frank disclosure to your partner of your concerns or apprehensions will help you better connect. It may also be helpful to find new ways to reconnect sexually as a couple.
Reaching out to a health professional or finding a committed sexual therapist is another way to help restore your sexual confidence. They may have some additional suggestions.