Browser does not support script.
Skip to main content
There are many dimensions to cancer that can have an impact on a woman’s sexuality. Psychological, behavioural and physical changes are often difficult to separate and this can make addressing sexual effects a complex process.
The recommendations suggest using a vaginal dilator three times a week for 5–10 minutes, for an indefinite time period. However, a recent review of published research found that routine vaginal dilation during, or soon after cancer treatment, may be harmful in very rare cases if used during the inflammatory period or immediately after radiotherapy. Women are now advised to use the dilators four weeks after completing radiotherapy to minimise risk during the time when the vaginal lining is most likely to be damaged.
The effect of changing oestrogen and androgen levels on sexual desire is poorly understood, but these clearly have a role to play. It’s believed that oestrogens and androgens work together to promote libido. Circulating oestrogen within the blood also plays an important role in the maintenance of healthy vaginal mucosa. Declining levels of oestrogen will result in the shortening and narrowing of the vagina, reduced vaginal blood flow, loss of lubrication, increased pH and atrophy of the vaginal wall.
The effects of reduced oestrogen on the vaginal mucosa may be improved with the use of oral hormone replacement therapy in women who have a oestrogen-receptor negative tumour. If vaginal atrophy continues or there is persistent vaginal irritation or infection, then it may be necessary to offer topical oestrogen cream. Just as normal sexual function relies on a complex interplay of physical and emotional well-being, addressing sexual difficulties requires a holistic approach.
We have more information about pelvic radiotherapy in women|.
More from the latest edition of Mac Voice|
Macmillan Learn Zone|
Macmillan Online Community|
Writing an article for Mac Voice?
Download top tips|
Tel 020 7091 2219
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
You can also follow us| on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
what are these?|