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Treating Vaginal Dryness After Breast Cancer

Non-Hormonal Treatment Helps Women

Many post-menopausal women develop vaginal dryness and thinning of the tissue, which can result in painful intercourse or, in some cases, the inability to have intercourse. This condition, known as genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), is particularly prevalent in women with a breast cancer diagnosis, who often go through early menopause as a result of chemotherapy.

“Seventy percent of all menopausal women develop GSM," explains Lauren Streicher, MD, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause. “Women with a breast cancer diagnosis often have additional physical and medical challenges beyond what the typical menopausal woman experiences.”

While there are a number of treatments available to help manage GSM, CO2 laser treatment performed by a gynecologist is a safe and effective non-hormonal treatment to restore vaginal and vulvar health and facilitate the ability to have pleasurable sexual activity.

Symptoms of GSM

GSM is caused by a drop in estrogen levels, which causes genital and urinary tract tissues to become thin and unable to produce adequate lubrication. This can result in any of the following vulvar, vaginal or urinary symptoms:

  • Dryness
  • Irritation
  • Itching
  • Urinary frequency
  • Urinary urgency
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Painful intercourse

Non-hormonal Treatments Available

Over-the-counter vaginal lubricants are sometimes helpful, but lubricants don't restore natural lubrication or elasticity and are often inadequate. Prescription vaginal estrogen or steroid hormones (DHEA) in the form of a tablet, cream, suppository or vaginal ring are considered safe to use for most women and can help alleviate symptoms of GSM, but many women with breast cancer are advised against using, or prefer not to use, hormone treatments.

“The CO2 laser treatment is an effective, non-hormonal option to treat the vaginal dryness and sexual pain associated with GSM,” says Dr. Streicher. The BRAVA program offers complimentary vaginal and vulvar laser treatments for eligible post-menopausal women living with a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Treating cancer is the most important thing, but in many cases, life-saving therapy can sabotage the ability to have a normal sexual response, impacting not only quality of life, but also relationships,” says Dr. Streicher.

Learn more about vaginal health and discomfort, and what type of treatment might be right for you.

Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause

Featured Experts

Lauren F. Streicher, MD
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