PUBLISHED ON: 22 September 2014

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.

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.