Home / News / Breast Cancer Care blog

Breast Cancer Care blog


Vaginal dryness and irritation is one of a range of unwanted side effects of breast cancer treatment. It is experienced by many women, and can make day-to-day life uncomfortable and sex painful.

Becoming menopausal, or a worsening of existing menopausal symptoms, can be caused by breast cancer treatments such as hormone therapy and chemotherapy. Vaginal dryness and discomfort is a menopausal symptom that can particularly affect your sexual feelings and desire.

5394 Lots of treatments

Talking about such an intimate problem can be really difficult, especially as it may not have been mentioned before as a possible side effect. But there are a number of possible treatments so it is worth making the effort.

In the new edition of our free booklet Menopausal symptoms and breast cancer there’s a prompt list to help you talk about your symptoms with a healthcare professional.

Many of the treatments for vaginal dryness can be prescribed by a doctor, bought in a chemist or ordered online.

Seeing your local doctor (GP) or practice nurse is a good place to start, particularly as any vaginal infection or thrush will need treating before you begin using vaginal moisturisers or lubricants. Such problems are more common in menopausal women.

As everyone is different, you may have to try more than one treatment before you find a solution that works well for you.

Vaginal moisturisers

ReplensMD and Hyalofemme can help give relief from dryness and discomfort regardless of sexual activity. They can be applied every few days and, for best effect, need to be used regularly over time.

Vaginal lubricants

These tend to be shorter acting than moisturisers and are either water or oil-based. They include:

  • Yes
  • Astroglide
  • Pasante TLC
  • Sylk
  • Pre seed.

Lubricants help prevent friction and pain during sex and intimacy, and can also be used at other times to relieve dryness and discomfort.

Some women find that spermicidal gel or natural yogurt can make intercourse more comfortable.

Intercourse itself stimulates the blood flow to the vagina and will help maintain its suppleness and elasticity.

Pelvic floor exercises can increase blood flow and help you learn to relax these muscles during sex and intimacy to minimise pain. Being able to relax can also help reduce pain during any future pelvic examinations, for example when you have a smear test.

Hormone-based treatments

You need to  talk to your specialist team about using hormone treatments since hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is not usually recommended for women after a diagnosis of breast cancer. But some specialists will for a short time prescribe hormone treatments that are applied directly to the vagina. With vaginal oestrogens, it’s thought that very little oestrogen is absorbed into the body.

Vaginal oestrogen may be more safely prescribed for women taking tamoxifen. This is because tamoxifen is thought to counteract any oestrogen entering the bloodstream.

If you are taking an aromatase inhibitor, vaginal oestrogen is not usually recommended, but you may be able to switch to tamoxifen.

Some women find that HRT increases sexual desire.

We’re here for you

If you’d like to talk to someone about this or any other breast cancer or breast health-related concern, please call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000. All our Helpline staff have either personal or professional experience of breast cancer and understand what you're going through.

For more information you can order or download our free booklet Your body, intimacy and sex.

#hiddeneffects

We couldn't provide these free services without public support so, to help tell the real story of what it’s like to live with breast cancer, we’re running a #hiddeneffects campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Find out more about the hidden effects of breast cancer and how you can get involved.

Post date: 22 September 2014

Wendy, 75, was diagnosed with breast cancer just before her 73rd birthday. She’s already faced bowel cancer and says she owes her recovery to her incredibly supportive family and friends.

Having been selected from thousands of applicants to be a model at our glamorous fashion show on 1 October, Wendy is looking forward to strutting her way down the catwalk. Wendy shares her story and reason for taking part.

Wendy's story

5395

'After finding a lump in my right breast in 2011 I had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. When I started chemotherapy I was four days away from my 73rd birthday, an unhappy parallel to my 60th birthday when I was told I had bowel cancer. Despite this I have recovered from both and am grateful for all the other birthdays I have had!

During chemotherapy I was in a three week cycle where for the first week making a cup of tea was an effort. Over the next two weeks things would gradually improve, until the next round of chemo. It was not as bad as I had feared. I had a few setbacks that put me back into hospital due to infections, but it is all in the past now. I truly believe that I would not have recovered so well had it not been for the support of family and friends. I have three children and nine grandchildren.'

Coping with breast cancer

'Breast cancer is something I am learning to cope with. It has been strange getting used to seeing myself with only one breast and has made me very ‘boob aware’. As well as getting mild envy over other women, I am very aware of my missing breast and the couple of unsightly lumps that I have been left with. I decided not to have reconstructive surgery as I could not face two more operations, though I do miss my cleavage!

Although my lifestyle is slowly getting back to its pre-cancer state, my body image is taking longer to recover. My friends have been a great support and not let me slip into feeling sorry for myself. Breast cancer has put my life into perspective. I have learnt to make more time for family and friends. Losing a breast is not that important compared to problems others live with.'

'I’m looking forward to being in The Show because I want to show that there is life after cancer and 70!'

Wendy will take to the catwalk at our annual London fashion show at Grosvenor House on 1 October.

Find out more about The Show

Post date: 19 September 2014

New figures show GP referrals for genetic testing for women considered to be at high risk of developing breast cancer doubled last year, in connection with Angelina Jolie's announcement that she had a preventive double mastectomy after inheriting an altered BRCA gene. Commenting on this news Grete Brauten-Smith, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said:

“Angelina Jolie’s experience highlighted the important issue of family history and breast cancer. It’s positive to see the figures illustrating how women in a similar situation with a strong family history have been encouraged to find support and are taking action to ensure they are appropriately screened.

“It’s important that the 5% who have inherited an altered BRCA gene are able to make an informed decision about risk-reducing surgery and other options available to them. It is positive that Angelina felt surgery didn’t reduce her feelings of femininity, though we know that people’s experiences of surgery vary.

“If you’re concerned about your family history, the first step is to talk to your GP.”

Post date: 19 September 2014

Many of the chemotherapy drugs used in breast cancer cause hair loss and most women will be told about this before starting treatment.

Knowing in advance about this side effect can help people organise a wig or other headwear and think about strategies that might help them cope when it happens.

5390

The unexpected

What often surprises people is that it isn’t just the hair on their head that they may lose. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss all over the body - including eyebrows, eyelashes, underarm and pubic hair.

This can be a shock, especially if you’re not prepared for it. For some it can be difficult to adjust to looking at someone quite different in the mirror. Eyelashes and eyebrows add definition to the face and without any hair on your head either, this can affect your sense of identity and self-esteem.

Nails can also change. Certain drugs may make finger and toenails discoloured or brittle, so they won't grow as long as they used to and may break more easily. Sometimes nails will lift away from the nail bed and fall out.

Appearance matters

People often tell us that they're surprised when they lose their eyelashes or find their nails have changed.

Losing eyelashes or toenails may seem like a small matter when you are dealing with a life-threatening illness, but constant changes and side effects chip away at how people feel about themselves.

Help is at hand

For most people these effects are temporary and there are things that can help.

Our HeadStrong service can help with all aspects of hair loss and our booklet Breast cancer and hair loss has lots of tips and information on dealing with it.

If you have a specific question on hair loss, you can give our free Helpline a call on 0808 800 6000.

There’s also a wealth of information on our website including articles, tips and videos on coping with hair loss on Vita online.

#hiddeneffects

We couldn't provide these free services without public support so, to help tell the real story of what it’s like to live with breast cancer, we’re running a #hiddeneffects campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Find out more about the hidden effects of breast cancer and how you can get involved.

Post date: 18 September 2014

As you all know tomorrow voters across Scotland go to the polls to decide on the Yes/No question of whether the country should be independent. 

Breast Cancer Care Scotland was established in 1989 and employs staff and involves many volunteers across the country. Each year we reach thousands of people affected by breast cancer in Scotland through our services. 

Breast Cancer Care Scotland’s mission remains unchanged: to help people find a way to live with, through and beyond breast cancer. We wish to reassure everyone who relies on our services in Scotland that we will continue to be there to support them as well as their families. 

Our Board of Trustees is committed to ensuring the needs of people facing breast cancer across Scotland are met. They will continue to make their decisions based on what is best for people affected by breast cancer. 

Post date: 17 September 2014