What is Vaginal Stenosis?
Vaginal stenosis is the narrowing and/or loss of flexibility of the vagina and it occurs as a side effect of radiotherapy and/or genital surgery. In most cases, it is also accompanied by the dryness and loss of resilience of scar tissue.
Radiation therapy is generally used in the pelvic area in order to treat cancer of the bladder, rectum, lymph glands, uterus or cervix. Whatever the type of radiotherapy – by external beam radiation or by the use of internal implants – it has multiple effects on the vagina. The most common are the drying and thinning of the vaginal lining, fibrosis (formation of scar tissue), shortening and narrowing of the vagina, reduction of vaginal lubrication and diminishment of the size and number of small blood vessels within the vagina. The result is vaginal stenosis and much drier, friable vaginal tissue.
How to Reduce the Effects of Vaginal Stenosis?
In the long term, vaginal stenosis can lead to pain during physical examination and problems with sexual intercourse.
In order to reduce these effects, aside from professional sexual counselling involving both partners, patients are advised to use a silicone vaginal dilator. However, the usage instructions for vaginal dilators will depend on the individual treatment plan and the precise procedures patients are undergoing. Sometimes, doctors also recommend oestrogen creams and exercises to increase circulation in the vaginal area.
It is important to mention that patients may or may not be permitted to have sexual intercourse while undergoing treatment. This depends entirely on their treatment plan and whether or not the relevant healthcare professional is willing to allow intercourse to continue.
Even if intercourse is permitted, patients may lose interest during radiotherapy and for a while after, as a result of a general loss in confidence. This is where professional counselling can help, and also the knowledge that cancer is not contagious and cannot be passed on by sexual intercourse. Another important aspect everyone should know is that, when permitted, sexual activity will not cause a return of the cancer and partners will not suffer from any after effects of the patient’s radiation therapy.
If the healthcare professional allows patients to have intercourse, most likely they will be instructed on how to use a water based lubricant to facilitate penetration and to protect dry vaginal tissue. Also, it is recommended to adjust positions in order to increase the woman’s comfort and protect the fragile vaginal tissue. It has been found that vaginal penetration with either a silicone vaginal dilator or sexual intercourse significantly decreases the occurrence of vaginal stenosis and dyspareunia.
In some cases, sexual intercourse may become unacceptably painful because of vulvar and vaginal inflammation occurring towards the end of the treatment. It is recommended for patients to use vaginal dilators at this time or just wait for the damaged tissue to heal and resume normal sexual activity.
Where contraception is concerned, it should continue to be used until advised otherwise by a healthcare professional, even if radiotherapy to the female pelvic region (including ovaries) will result in infertility.
Everyone should understand that radiotherapy in the pelvic area also has many emotional side effects that can affect a woman’s quality of life. This is why, along with physical help, patients should search for professional counselling, aftercare and support, proven to significantly help in problems of body image and sexual function.
Patients being treated for vaginal stenosis that are advised to use silicone vaginal dilators can purchase them on this website. It is very important to discuss the usage instructions with your healthcare professional and to follow their directions precisely.