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Many Women Experience Negative Sexual Side Effects Post-Cancer Treatment

It’s something women are reluctant to talk about. After surviving cancer, many women feel so grateful that they may not want to complain about sexual side effects. But the harsh truth is: cancer and cancer treatment often cause changes in the sex life.

The University of Rochester Medical Center says sex side effects could be worse during, and right after, treatment. But the impact can also show up months or even years later. Sometimes problems get better over time, but some women find that they’ll need to adjust to a new normal.

Some of the most common sexual side effects women experience post cancer can include: low sex drive, vaginal dryness, vaginal stenosis (narrowing of the vagina), vaginal atrophy, and a change in sensitivity.

These are not linked to just one cancer diagnosis; treatments for a variety of cancers may impact sexual health. Cervical cancer treatment, especially, poses additional challenges because it involves brachytherapy. Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy where a sealed radiation source is placed inside or next to the area requiring treatment.

With cervical cancer, doctors insert radioactive sources directly into the tumor, which can harm organs in the genital region. Half of the women who receive cervical brachytherapy experience serious sexual side effects.

While there are no FDA-approved medications specifically for female sexual dysfunction, doctors can offer options that may help.

Interventions such as pelvic floor therapy can provide some relief. Hormone therapy may be used to boost sex drive and improve vaginal health. Moisturizers and lubricants may help too, and some doctors will prescribe lidocaine which is a topical pain medication, to lessen pain.

Experts agree there are fewer choices for women when it comes to any type of sexual dysfunction than men. At the same time, women are less likely to learn about the possibility of sexual side effects before they select or undergo cancer treatment.

The only way to really change or improve this is by talking about it. It reminds me of the old advice: you can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.

What do you think?


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