| Tara Langdale
Reasons to use Dilators after Brachytherapy
Brachytherapy is a type of radiation treatment most often used to treat cancers, and occasionally other conditions such as heart problems. Although it is designed to treat many types of cancer, this article will focus on the side effects of brachytherapy in the pelvic region. We will explain why you need dilators after Brachytherapy in this area.
Brachytherapy is often called internal radiation. This high-dose radiation treatment is applied locally, to the area afflicted by the cancer. Brachytherapy is delivered to the body through an applicator tube containing a small radioactive pellet. This enables delivery of the radiation as close to the cancer site as possible, thus mitigating damage to other tissues in the body.
Brachytherapy is not used as often as external radiation, in which a machine delivers radiation to specific body parts through a beam. However, when you have Brachytherapy, the cancer is targeted with higher doses of radiation. This reduces overall treatment time and usually results in fewer side effects.
Which pelvic cancers does Brachytherapy treat?
As we mentioned above, Brachytherapy treats cancers all over the body. In the pelvic region it is used to treat:
- Cervical cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Soft tissue sarcomas
- Vaginal cancer
Your healthcare provider may combine brachytherapy with other radiation treatments or cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. It is sometimes delivered after surgery, and commonly to treat remaining cancer cells after other treatments.
What are the side effects of Brachytherapy?
The most common side effects of pelvic Brachytherapy affect the vagina, rectum, bowels and bladder. There can be short-term and long-term effects of brachytherapy, which we will outline below. Many people worry that this treatment will make them radioactive and thus a danger to others, but this is not the case. The body doesn’t retain and transmit radiation with brachytherapy.
Brachytherapy side effects in the vagina
Over the short-term, it is common to develop soreness and inflammation in the vagina after brachytherapy for gynecological cancers. You might experience increased vaginal discharge and be more prone to vaginal infections.
The long-term side effects can be more serious. As your vaginal tissues begin to heal after radiation therapy, you can develop scar tissue and adhesions. Adhesions are bands of scar tissue that develop in the tissues, causing them to stick together. This has a tightening effect. Adhesions can occur between organs too, fusing them together. You may find that little blood vessels appear on the outside of the vagina, and are prone to bleeding.
This treatment sometimes affects the process of lubrication in the vagina, causing dryness. The vaginal muscles may also harden and lose flexibility and elasticity. This has a tightening and shortening effect on the birth canal, which (along with dryness) makes sexual intercourse and gynecological examinations difficult and painful. When such conditions arise, it is called vaginal stenosis. This is why using vaginal dilators after brachytherapy is often recommended by Doctors.
Brachytherapy side effects in the rectum
Men or women who have had brachytherapy for rectal cancer may find that they bleed from the rectum afterwards for a while, and that the tissues are more sensitive and prone to tearing and inflammation. This can cause pain and discomfort when going to the toilet.
Over the long-term, it is possible to experience:
- A fistula (drainage hole for infection created by the body) between the rectum and the bladder or vagina
- Anal stenosis
Anal stenosis is the name for when the rectum shrinks in capacity, getting tighter and shorter. Like vaginal stenosis, it happens because of scar tissue forming adhesions in the rectum. This can make it difficult to pass stools, or lead to constipation and tearing (anal fissures). It can be helpful to use anal dilators after brachytherapy to keep these adhesions from forming.
Unfortunately, having treatment in the rectum can cause side effects in the vagina because of the close proximity.
Brachytherapy side effects in the bowels
Brachytherapy affects bowel function, causing loose stools and sometimes diarrhoea. This is likely to happen for a few days before returning to normal.
However, for 1 in 5 women, there are long-term brachytherapy side effects in the bowels resulting in various changes to bowel function. These are often minimal and can be further mitigated through dietary changes if needed, along with drinking plenty of water to ensure proper hydration.
Brachytherapy side effects in the bladder
Short-term, you might feel burning when you urinate after having brachytherapy. Some notice an unusual odour in the urine too, which might indicate a bladder infection. Drinking lots of water should help to prevent or lessen these symptoms.
Long-term side effects on the bladder may affect around 1 in 10 women after undergoing brachytherapy treatment. Most commonly this presents as blood in the urine.
Most people who undergo brachytherapy feels tired afterwards as the body works to rebuild damaged cells. Rest and recuperation time may be required during this phase, and normal activities can be resumed slowly.
Do you need to use dilators after brachytherapy?
Your Doctor will usually recommend using vaginal dilators after brachytherapy. This is sensible whether or not you have developed vaginal stenosis, since dilators are also a preventative measure. If you use dilators after brachytherapy, you will be able to prevent scar tissue and adhesions from forming in the first place. You will ensure that your vaginal capacity is maintained and that the tissues remain as supple and flexible as possible.
The same applies to using rectal dilators after brachytherapy. If you have had this treatment for cancer of the rectum, you can prevent anal stenosis through rectal dilator therapy.
Dilators work by gently stretching the tissues, which prevents scar tissue from taking hold and distorting the tissues. Dilator use also increases blood flow to the area, bringing many healing benefits. Our Neodymium magnetic dilators work even better than normal dilators for increasing blood flow to your tissues, which in turn calms irritated nerves and relieves pain.
What else can you do to treat Brachytherapy side effects?
We always recommend bathing or showering regularly, to keep the affected area clean. It might be an idea to avoid using tampons for a while, and any other substances that may exacerbate irritation or cause infection. To avoid discomfort, you may wish to use a natural lubricant during dilator therapy after brachytherapy. The same applies to sexual intercourse, since the treatment may have caused dryness.
If you find that you are bleeding after brachytherapy, especially when having sex or using dilators, know that this is common. However, if it continues for an extended period or there are excessive amounts of blood, it would be best to consult your physician before continuing.
Using dilators after brachytherapy is common practice. Although it might feel unfamiliar at first, it is simple, very safe, and effective for preventing or treating vaginal stenosis and anal stenosis. You should continue long term use of your dilators, using them regularly for maintenance even after your tissues appear to have stabilized.
VuVa Helpful Links:
How do Neodymium Vaginal Dilators work?
7 Reasons for a Tight Vagina and How to Loosen
How to Relax Vaginal Muscles, Vaginismus & Sex
Vaginal Stretching - Keeping in Shape with Dilators
Do Dilators Really Work? Yes, and They can Improve Your Sex Life!