smiling middle-aged woman with bandana over her balding head from chemo

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Does Chemotherapy Cause Vaginal Dryness?

Can chemotherapy drugs cause vaginal dryness? (Really, aren't nausea, hair loss, and exhaustion enough?)

Sadly, the answer is yes: chemotherapy drugs can cause vaginal dryness - if they damage a woman's ovaries.

Do chemotherapy drugs often damage a woman’s ovaries?

Yes. And sometimes that damage is bad enough that the ovaries stop producing two primary female hormones, estrogen and progesterone.

The results vary. For some women it’s irregular periods for several months. For others, it’s full-blown, pre-mature menopause. In fact, 30% of women undergoing chemotherapy for a gynecological cancer experience early menopause.

And for those over 40, it happens even more often.

But why does “early menopause” lead to intimate dryness?

First of all, early menopause may be premature but it’s still menopause. And that brings all the symptoms we normally associate with “the change.” Including vaginal dryness.

Furthermore, for women undergoing chemotherapy, the hormone shifts are very sudden. That tends to make all the symptoms more severe.

It doesn’t always begin with gusto. But it gets there. Women may start by feeling just a slight lack of natural wetness during intercourse. Gradually, though, the vaginal tissue becomes thinner, less elastic, and more fragile. Women can get to the point of feeling almost constant irritation. The slightest friction – from something as ordinary as wearing pantyhose or jeans – can lead to inflammation (and sometimes painful infection.)

Finally, chemotherapy also decreases normal blood flow to vaginal tissue, making it all the more vulnerable. In some cases, chronic vaginal dryness can follow.

How can doctors help relieve the discomfort?

They can prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT). But that involves estrogen treatment. For women who have undergone chemotherapy, that can be risky because studies show a link between estrogen and breast cancer.

As a result, some women taking chemotherapy drugs look for more naturopathic options. One of the most widely publicized is “phytoestrogens,” estrogen-like substances found in soy products and some plants, including yams.

However, little research has been done on their safety, and some experts fear that they may behave dangerously like prescription estrogen in the body.

5 Natural Remedies for Vaginal Dryness Due to Chemotherapy

Stay hydrated. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day to help keep tissue moist, even below the belt.

Moisturize, and then moisturize some more. Every woman with chronic dryness should consider the benefits of a vaginal moisturizer. Used daily, it can soothe and protect intimate tissue. Especially for women in treatment (and those who’ve undergone chemotherapy), it’s a wonderful way to combat dryness and avoid inflammation.

Or you can use an actual vaginal lubricant. If the dryness is not severe, you might prefer to liberally apply a lubricant, as-needed, to make sex more comfortable. Try to avoid lubricants that contain glycerin because they can provoke yeast infection. A great option is Crème de la Femme, the all-in-one vaginal moisturizer and lubricant. It’s 100% hormone-free, which makes it ideal for women with a history of gynecological cancer. It’s also paraben-free and fragrance-free.

Stop douching entirely. It disrupts the vagina’s normal chemical balance, which often leads to irritation and dryness.

Eat healthy amounts of “good” fat. Your body needs a little fat with every meal in order to make adequate levels of sex hormones. Flaxseed oil can be quite helpful with this.

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