Let’s not beat around the bush, cancer sucks. If you’re on this page, we hope it’s because you’re starting to get your mojo back. However, we know the frustrating reality that recovering from the side effects of cancer treatment takes time. Some symptoms may ease in just days or weeks, while other symptoms may persist for months, years, or even for the rest of your life.
Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help treat your symptoms, relieve your discomfort and manage your pain.
Want to learn more about related conditions? Follow the links below to gain a better understanding of the symptoms and treatments.
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other cancer treatments can be hard on your pelvis.
Chemotherapy medications can irritate the mucous membranes in the body
Including the lining of the vagina causing it to become dry and inflamed.
Pelvic radiation therapy can cause scarring that may shorten or even narrow the vagina.
Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy can lead to all sorts of hormonal changes, which may result in some women experiencing early symptoms of menopause, an end to menstrual periods or a worsening of already existing menopausal symptoms.
Some of the more common pelvic health symptoms that can come with cancer treatment include:
Most at risk for these symptoms are women who have undergone treatments for:
As we mentioned earlier, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause all sorts of hormonal changes, including early, induced, or temporary menopause.
According to the Cancer Council of Australia, about two-thirds of women younger than 50 at the time of diagnosis with breast cancer will go through menopause due to their treatment.
And if a woman is perimenopausal when her treatment begins, she may move into menopause more quickly.
Many cancer survivors who have gone through menopause as a result of treatment say that vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) is one of the most unpleasant side effects. And these women rarely discuss the problem with their health care provider.
Symptoms of VVA include:
All of these symptoms are associated with declining estrogen levels that cause structural and functional changes in the vaginal tissue, including changes in pH, decreased blood flow to tissues, shortening and narrowing of the vagina, and reduced vestibular sensation.
Who would have known that estrogen plays such an important role in vaginal tissue health?!
If a woman is finding sex painful, her pelvic floor may spasm involuntarily and make vaginal penetration more painful, difficult or impossible. This involuntary muscle spasm is called vaginismus. Vaginismus is, unfortunately, fairly common in women who have gone through menopause whether that menopause is natural or brought on by cancer treatments.
All of the things that can cause pain during sex (cancer treatments, VVA, dryness, etc.) can complicate and exacerbate vaginismus. And anxiety and emotions have a big role to play. Once a person starts experiencing painful sex their fear and apprehension about sex and penetration can actually cause vaginal spasms. This in turn makes sex more painful and difficult and so the negative cycle continues.
Many women simply aren’t told about these potential side effects. They may believe that their symptoms are a normal part of aging or are just so grateful to be cancer free they don’t put two and two together.
We want to put you back in the driver’s seat when it comes to your pelvic health so you can feel in control and enjoy your life after cancer to the fullest.
We recommend products that make it easy to take care of yourself from home and they have a natural, non-medical look and feel (because we know how sick of all-things-medical you are). Your body has been through a lot, so we strongly encourage you to check in with a pelvic health specialist (like a women’s health physio or gynecologist) before using any products to treat yourself at home.
Vaginal dilation can help to manage VVA, vaginismus and other side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. A dilator can help improve or maintain vaginal capacity and tissue flexibility by gently stretching the vaginal walls, which helps to prevent scar tissue and gradually makes the vagina more elastic and flexible over time.
Many doctors recommend patients start dilator therapy after cancer treatment because radiation in particular can be tough on the vagina and lead to shrinking and scarring.
And because scarring can develop over many years, vaginal dilators may be a tool that you use for the rest of your life. Even if you’re not having sex, regular use of vaginal dilators can help to make pelvic exams, tampon insertion and pap smears less painful.
In the case of vaginismus and painful sex, dilators can be used as part of treatment to help retrain the muscles to relax. Women start with a size that is comfortable and gradually progress as able.
Intimate Rose dilators are specially made from resilient silicone rubber to have a comfortable, natural texture. And they can be chilled to ease pain or warmed for extra comfort. They’re also thoughtfully and beautifully-made with a non-medical look, despite being designed by a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor health.
We have lubricants to get things feeling better down there. Friction typically serves to exacerbate an already tender situation, so our lubes and vaginal moisturizers will become your new best friend. They’re natural, nourishing and made from the highest quality ingredients to help you feel good about taking care of your body.
TendHer reusable perineal cooling pads are perfect for cooling the most sensitive and delicate area of a woman’s body. Comfortable, cooling and discreet. No-one will know you are wearing it— it can be our little secret. And as an added bonus you can also use your cooling pad as an eye mask or to cool (or warm!) and soothe any area of your body that may need a little TLC.
Using an intimate wearable that allows you to control the depth of penetration during sex can help you manage, or even eliminate, pain. The Ohnut is designed to feel just like skin. It’s so comfortable (like a gentle hug) you and your partner will barely notice it’s there. And because you no longer have to worry about whether penetration will hurt, the Ohnut allows both you and your partner to focus on what matters most, connection, enjoyment and fun.
Your pelvic health probably hasn’t been on the top of your list of priorities and your pelvis might need some extra love and attention before you can get back to exercising the way you used to. We strongly recommend getting a check up from a pelvic floor specialist to make sure kegels are the right solution for you.
When you’ve had an assessment and you’re ready to start training your pelvic floor, kegel trainers can help. They strengthen your pelvic muscles to improve your continence, tone your pelvic floor and maybe even give you better orgasms.
After all your body has been through, investing in products that are safe, gentle and effective to help relieve and prevent cancer treatment side effects is a no-brainer.