If you’ve undergone treatment for breast cancer with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, you may have experienced changes in sexual function, a side effect that can impact both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Changes that may affect sexual function for premenopausal women can include irregular menstrual cycles and menopause and related symptoms, while both premenopausal and postmenopausal women can experience reduced sexual desire, vaginal dryness, and inflammation of the vaginal lining that results in burning and redness. Although sexual dysfunction is a difficult side effect to cope with, the following approaches can help you manage your symptoms and once again enjoy intimacy:
- Topical anesthetics may be helpful for patients with severe pain. The most common preparation is 5% lidocaine ointment, which is applied at least one hour prior to intercourse. These anesthetics have no effect on sexual pleasure, however, so over-the-counter lubricants may also be recommended; these include Replens®, K-Y® lubricants, Vagisil®, Astroglide®, Pre-Seed®, Femglide®, and others.
- Low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy may help control vaginal dryness and sexual pain, though their use for breast cancer patients is controversial due to concerns that estrogen may raise risk for recurrence. Some sexually active breast cancer survivors, however, were more comfortable using vaginal estrogen treatment when closely monitored, as this method results in less systemic estrogen absorption than the oral or skin route (patch). There have been no clinical studies showing an adverse effect on survival or recurrence of cancer with vaginal estrogen use in breast cancer survivors. Vagifem® (estradiol vaginal tablets) and Estring® (estradiol vaginal ring) are preferred over vaginal estrogen creams by patients; both agents have demonstrated a 90% improvement in atrophic symptoms.
Active management of sexual dysfunction after breast cancer treatment may further help alleviate symptoms by allowing survivors to enjoy regular sexual activity, which can have its own therapeutic effects: regular sexual activity has been shown to improve vaginal atrophy by stimulating blood flow to the area.
Through their fundraising project, Steppin’ Out, the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) supports research in gynecologic cancer and gynecologic complications of cancer treatment.
Steppin’ Out: A Project to Benefit the GOG’s New Horizons GYN Cancer Research Fund
GOG established the New Horizons GYN Cancer Research Fund to fund worthwhile research projects in gynecologic cancer. Although the GOG receives funding from the National Cancer Institute, many worthy research projects are not undertaken because there is not adequate financial support. The New Horizons GYN Cancer Research Fund will help offset the cost of these projects.
To support the fund, the GOG is launching a program called Steppin’ Out. For a tax-deductible donation of $100 or more, you will receive a sterling-silver high-heel charm. There is also a gold charm available for special order.