Side Effects of Cancer Treatment: Vaginal Dryness
Medically reviewed by C.H. Weaver M.D. Medical Editor 8/2018
- What is vaginal dryness?
- What causes vaginal dryness?
- What are the symptoms of vaginal dryness?
- How is vaginal dryness managed?
- What else can I do?
What is vaginal dryness?
Vaginal dryness is a lack of lubrication in the vagina. Vaginal dryness does not mean that you are not aroused. Due to prior therapy, the vagina may not be able to become lubricated. Vaginal dryness is the primary reason that women may experience painful intercourse.
What causes vaginal dryness?
In most women who have undergone cancer treatment, the cause of vaginal dryness is hormonal changes. Chemotherapy can damage your ovaries so that they no longer produce estrogen and progesterone. When your estrogen levels decrease, the amount of vaginal lubrication you produce also drops. Decreased amounts of estrogen also lead to a thinner, less elastic and more fragile vaginal lining.
Women also experience a change in hormone levels with menopause, the natural ending of menstrual cycles. However, most women go through menopause over several years and their bodies gradually get used to the hormonal changes. The hormonal changes that women experience due to chemotherapy tend to be dramatic and abrupt, leading to more intense symptoms.
What are the symptoms of vaginal dryness?
The primary symptom of vaginal dryness is pain or discomfort during intercourse; however, you may also have itchiness, irritation and discomfort during normal daily activities.
How is vaginal dryness managed?
Try using a water-based lubricant, such as KY Jelly.
What else can I do?
Coping with changes in your ability to be sexual is very difficult. Maintaining open communication with your doctor and your partner may help. Without a doubt, one of the most common problems regarding cancer and sexuality is people’s reluctance to talk about it with their sexual partner and their health care team. However, communication is the key to coping with this difficult topic. Cancer care specialists are accustomed to addressing these issues every day.
More importantly, sharing your thoughts, feelings and any fears you may have regarding vaginal dryness with your partner is essential to maintaining an intimate relationship with that person. Through open communication, you and your partner can work toward finding other ways to express yourselves beyond intercourse, such as gentle touching, holding hands, kissing, hugging and sharing emotional closeness.