For women undergoing cancer treatment, you may experience vaginal dryness or irritation. While vaginal dryness is a common problem in menopause, it also can be caused by some cancer treatment drugs, such as tamoxifen for the treatment of breast cancer.
Some women are uncomfortable talking about vaginal dryness, but it can lead to painful intercourse or tears in the vaginal tissue, which then could lead to infections or impact quality of life and self-esteem. Your doctor has several options to treat vaginal dryness:
Over-the-counter lubricants — you may just need extra lubrication to ease any dryness and discomfort. Look for a water-based gel without any perfumes, herbal extracts, spermicide or added ingredients that can irritate your tissues. Do not use petroleum jelly or other oil-based lubricants as they can increase the risk of infection as well as deteriorate latex in some condoms. Condoms that contain nonoxynol-9, a spermicide, can irritate vaginal tissue as well.
Vaginal moisturizers — Different from lubricants, vaginal moisturizers address both the moisture and pH balance inside the vagina and are not used during sexual activity. They typically are applied at bedtime several times a week.
Vitamin E gel capsules — Some doctors recommend the use of Vitamin E gel capsules as a vaginal moisturizer. You can pierce the capsule with a clean needle and then insert the capsule directly into your vagina. You also could squeeze the Vitamin E onto your fingers first and then maneuver into the vagina.
Vaginal estrogen — Prescribed by a physician, vaginal estrogen is commonly available as a cream or gel that can be applied to the vulva or just inside the vagina. A ring filled with estrogen also is available that can be placed into the vagina. Note that your primary care doctor should contact your cancer specialist before prescribing any estrogen therapy for vaginal dryness as hormone treatments may not be recommended because of your cancer history.