| Tara Langdale
Statistics say that anal cancer affects 1 in 10,000 people. However over the last few decades, incidences have been rising. Women tend to be affected by anal cancer more often than men, and unless a tumor is only in its early stages, the standard recommended therapy for anal cancer is primary chemoradiation. Anal radiation side effects can be short-term and long-term, and unfortunately for some women, there are also vaginal side effects from anal radiation therapy.
Short-term side effects include diarrhea, skin changes, irritation and pain in the anal area (radiation proctitis), pain and discomfort passing stools, nausea, fatigue and low blood cell counts. When treatment ceases these symptoms are likely to abate. The longer-term side effects of anal radiation include formation of scar tissue (which disrupts sphincter function), weakened pelvic and hip bones, and chronic rectal inflammation.
It goes without saying that all radiation symptoms can be difficult to deal with, but for women, there can be side effects of anal radiation in the vagina. Since these bring about a whole new set of problems for female radiation patients, it’s the main topic in this article…
The vaginal side effects of anal radiation
Anal radiation can at the very least irritate the vagina, causing discomfort and discharge in the short term. Radiation-related genital toxicities can lead to longer-term, or more chronic side effects. Although such symptoms might be alarming, it is important to note that if you are receiving anal radiation therapy, the severity of your symptoms is likely to depend on the dose of radiation and the number of treatments you have.
Even more importantly, there are always things you can do to mitigate symptoms and work towards regaining long-term health and body balance.
- Vaginal irritation
Anal radiation can severely irritate the vagina (and sometimes the external genital area). If your vaginal tissues are inflamed or irritated, you might find some relief from sitz baths. Another good option is vaginal moisturizers.
- Yeast infections
Some anal radiation patients find that they are more prone to yeast infections, inside the vagina and wherever there is radiated skin. Although there are many over-the-counter treatments for yeast infections (thrush), vaginal probiotic suppositories are one of the best since they can replenish the friendly vaginal microbiome rather than simply destroying the problematic bacteria.
- Vaginal fibrosis
Vaginal fibrosis is a common side effect of high dose pelvic or vaginal radiation therapy, affecting up to 80% of women who received it. Vaginal fibrosis is the name for the growth of adhesions from fibrous tissue in the vagina, which can make sex painful or difficult. Due to the proximity of the anus to the vagina, vaginal fibrosis can also occur after anal radiation therapy. Vaginal fibrosis can also lead to vaginal stenosis (see below).
- Vaginal Stenosis
Another anal radiation symptom affecting the vagina is vaginal stenosis, which is a shortening and narrowing of the birth canal. Other vaginal stenosis symptoms include a dry, thinned and fragile vaginal lining, muscle loss, loss of elasticity and flexibility, discharge and reduced blood flow to the tissues. As is the case with vaginal fibrosis, all of these can make sex a challenge.
One of the most effective treatments for vaginal stenosis (and fibrosis) is vaginal dilators. When used to stretch the vaginal walls several times a week, the vaginal conditions can greatly improve over time and sex can return to normal.
- Early menopause/infertility
Radiation anywhere in the pelvic region may bring the troublesome side effect of early menopause, which in turn leads to infertility. If the radiation field has reached the ovaries, you are at risk of early menopause, which means your reproductive cycle will come to an end. The menopause also means gradual vaginal atrophy for many women. Thankfully vaginal atrophy is another gynecological condition that can be greatly helped by using vaginal dilators.
If you have not yet had anal radiation therapy, you might want to consider having your eggs frozen - especially if you think there’s a chance you will want to have children in the future. It is a good idea to speak with your doctor about fertility concerns as soon as possible, as this could give you more options than if you leave it until after your treatment.
When anal radiation causes vaginal side effects, you may find that you develop scar tissue in your vagina. This can make sexual intercourse and pelvic exams difficult or very painful. Vaginal dilators are also recommended for women with non-gynecologic cancers (for example, anal cancer) that occur in close proximity to the vagina.
We know that the vaginal side effects of anal radiation can be very difficult to deal with, so we hope you found this article helpful! Don’t forget to check out our VuvaCare blog for education and advice on a range of women’s health issues. If you need any assistance with choosing the right vaginal dilators for you, simply drop us a line and we’ll be happy to advise.
Dilator therapy helps improve pelvic health and female sexuality. They are used to help a wide variety of female health concerns. Speak to your doctor today about how dilator therapy can help you.
Do you need to order vaginal dilators so you can start your pelvic floor therapy process? Made in the USA. Visit www.vuvatech.com
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Tara Langdale Schmidt is the inventor of the VuVa Dilator Company. She has pelvic floor dysfunction herself and wanted to create a dilator set that is made in America that women can trust. VuVatech has been in business since 2014 and has helped over 50,000 women all over the globe. She patented the Neodymium Vaginal Dilator, that is clinically proven to help with blood flow and nerve pain.