Radiation therapy is often a necessary when treating cancer, including cancers in the pelvic area. Radiation therapy comes with side effects that affect the part of the body where the radiation was administered, and a person’s general wellbeing.
If you’ve gone through radiation therapy for cancer of the cervix, uterus, vagina, ovaries or bladder, this can directly impact different pelvic health.
Radiation therapy often has multiple effects on the bladder. Firstly, it can compromise the strength of the pelvic floor muscles, which may cause incontinence. It can also cause fibrosis of the bladder wall, which is where scarring and hardening occur. Blood vessels in and around the bladder can become more fragile, leading to possible bleeding during urination. The urethra can become quite narrow, making urination painful or difficult. Lastly, radiation therapy can cause inflammation of the bladder, causing burning or pain during urination and other urinary symptoms.
Radiation therapy can cause diarrhoea, an inability to hold on to your bowel movements, and a frequent urge to pass a bowel movement.
Radiation therapy can cause early symptoms of menopause. Treatment-induced menopause usually occurs among women who are approaching menopause, and it can be permanent. Younger women who go through treatment-induced menopause may only experience it temporarily. Regardless, the symptoms associated with treatment-induced menopause can be frustrating. Menstruation often stops, and the vagina can become dry and painful. Women can also undergo hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, painful sex (dyspareunia), vaginal atrophy, mood swings and more.
Vaginal stenosis is a condition whereby the vagina becomes narrower and shorter. It is often accompanied by vaginal dryness and pain, and can cause the vagina to lose flexibility. Vaginal stenosis makes penetration very difficult and often painful. It’s usually made worse by chemotherapy.
Your doctor should be your first port of call when seeking advice on how to manage radiation therapy side effects in the pelvis. They can work with you or connect you with medical specialists to deliver targeted relief to suit your needs. There are also a few products you can use at home to manage and ease any side effects you’re experiencing.