Dr. Katz explains if gynecological cancer radiation treatments can cause negative sexual health side effects.
Radiation causes a lot of side effects. Some of them are temporary while the radiation is occurring, and generally radiation is given over months or two months, maybe six weeks. So while the treatment is going on, there is often breakdown of mucous membranes or tissues. If we are talking about pelvic irradiation, there can be a great deal of burning to the perennial area and to the vagina itself if the radiation was given internally, which it frequently is, for example, for cervical cancer.
So there can be breakdown; there can be ulceration. Now those generally do tend to heal. You have to be really careful. For example, if there has been radiation damage to the vagina with ulceration, you want to make sure that that woman is using dilators as prescribed by her oncologist to maintain the patency or openness of the vagina because what we don’t want is for those vaginal walls to stick together and then scar tissue forms.
So those are some of the sort of shorter-term effects of the radiation, but you can also get longer-term effects, especially with the vulva and the vagina; that tissue can become very, very thin and very, very dry. It will lose its natural lubrication. The blood vessels to that area can be profoundly damaged. So, you know, for a long time or perhaps forever, the woman really will have a great deal of changes in that area.
About Dr. Katz, R.N., Ph.D.:
My professional life is focused on providing information, education and counseling to people with cancer and their partners about sexual changes that can occur during and after treatment. But there is another important aspect to this work; I want every cancer patient to be able to have a discussion about sexuality with their health care providers.