Ask our HEALTH experts
Q: I’m 43 and was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. I’m grateful that treatment has been successful, but sex has become painful and my relationship is suffering. What can I do?
Vaginal atrophy with Dr Beverley Powell
Many cancer treatments will cause early ovarian failure in women, and the resulting hormone deficiency can cause many disabling symptoms. One of these is vaginal atrophy which causes the ‘Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause’. The skin of the genital area becomes thin and fragile, loses elasticity and doesn’t produce normal lubrication anymore.
Symptoms include vaginal dryness, itching or irritation, painful intercourse and abnormal discharge. About half of all menopausal women will suffer these problems.
The simplest measures are to use vaginal moisturisers to help provide short term relief, and use a good silicon-based lubricant during intercourse. Another option is to replace the hormones which keep the vagina healthy, either systemically or via local application. Some cancers are hormone dependent and this option must be discussed with your cancer doctors.
A newer non-pharmacological option is to use fractionated CO2 laser treatments on the vagina. Published ‘MonaLisa Touch’ studies have confirmed significant symptom improvements and safety. It consists of a series of outpatient treatments and a ‘top up’ treatment every year or so. The laser energy is delivered via a probe to the genital skin to stimulate cells deep in the skin to release growth factors. This results in increased collagen and elastin production, and new blood vessel growth. This helps to improve elasticity and lubrication, while reducing discomfort. The treatments take only a few minutes in your gynaecologist’s office, and while they might be slightly uncomfortable, it settles within 24 hours or so.
Talk to your doctor to find out more about vaginal atrophy and MonaLisa Touch.
Phone: 5479 3033
Argyle on the Park, Suite 4/31 Cotton Tree Pde, Cotton Tree
Q: What is Zostovax and why do we need it?
Shingles prevention with Sue Rohl
Zostovax is a vaccine for adults 50 years of age or older that prevents shingles. It contains a weakened chickenpox virus and works by helping your immune system to protect you from shingles. One-in-three people will develop shingles in their lifetime and 97 per cent of adults carry the virus that causes it.
There is no way to predict who will get shingles, when it will present and how severe it will be. Shingles, also known as Herpes Zoster, is a painful skin rash and is caused by the reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox.
It is painful acute inflammation of the nerve ganglia, with a skin eruption often forming a girdle around the middle of the body, but can affect the face, eyes, mouth and ears. The infected skin hurts and this may happen prior to the appearance of the rash. There may be tingling, numbness and itching one-to-five days after the rash appears. The rash begins as red blotches and develops into itchy fluid-filled blisters. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, malaise, nausea, muscle pain and weakness, chills, fatigue and swollen glands.
Zostavax may not protect all people who receive the vaccine. If you still develop shingles, Zostavax has been shown to help reduce the intensity and pain from the shingles. The vaccine is free for adults between the age of 70 and 79.