Vagina & Radiation

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The diagnosis of cancer, regardless of its projected outcome, brings about a deep sense of vulnerability and fear of the unknown.

The urgent medical process that follows, including additional tests, surgery, administration of various medications, etc., often causes a feeling of being trapped in a roller coaster without any control of its speed and direction, bringing further emotional devastation: anger and the feeling of victimization - why me? Worries about the future - will the cancer recur? Self-doubt about choices and options - did I make the right decision? And, have I been receiving the best care possible?

When it is a situation of gynecologic cancer that requires the adjunct intervention of pelvic and/or vaginal radiation, additional stressors present themselves: Will it hurt? Will it burn? How much will it burn me on the inside? What side effects will I suffer? Will I have a normal vagina again, ever? Will I be able to enjoy a normal sexual life once the radiation is over? And the ultimate question, will the cancer return anyway?

Pelvic radiation, and especially internal vaginal radiation, tends to affect all the surrounding tissues, including the bladder, the urethra (urine tube from the bladder outwardly), the vagina, the vulva (the lips, etc.), the rectum and the skin surrounding it.

Ideally, the radiation team will be attuned to the needs of the woman who is undergoing the treatment by providing guidance, sufficient explanations and reassurance, and even contact with other women who went through the process and who can assist with encouragement and a positive attitude.

Of utmost necessity is the need for perineal care instructions before, during, and after the treatment process especially because of a commonly overlooked fact: most women are not familiar with proper genital care in general, and do not know how to manage the breakdown associated with radiation in particular.  Additional attention should be given to maintaining vaginal elasticity for sexual and pelvic exam penetrations using vaginal dilators.

Our intervention offers tools and tips, including preventive and alternative approaches, aimed at ensuring genital health and positive emotional outcome before, during, and after gynecologic radiation treatment.

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