A study looked into a novel approach for helping women with a history of breast cancer who are suffering sexual problems due to the negative vaginal outcomes of oestrogen-blocking treatments. Many women who are on these oestrogen-blocking drugs suffer severe atrophic vaginitis.
The chronic sexual problems this presents can lower quality of life after breast cancer. It is believed that sexual dysfunction is underreported and undertreated, understood to be due to a lack of options in successfully treating atrophic vaginitis in this population.
The OVERcome study
The researchers looked into the acceptability, feasibility and efficacy of a treatment using Olive Oil, Vaginal Exercise and moisturiseR (OVER) to improve sexual function in women after breast cancer treatment. The measures assessed were painful sex (dyspareunia), sexual functioning, quality of life, distress, and pelvic floor muscle function.
Twenty-five women experiencing painful sex performed pelvic floor exercises twice daily to prevent and manage pelvic floor overactivity, while applying a polycarbophil-based vaginal moisturiser three times per week to address vaginal dryness, and use olive oil as a lubricant during sex. A compliance diary was filled out.
Pelvic floor relaxation training was performed by a physiotherapist before the study commenced and at four weeks, with follow-ups at week 12 and 26. The women filled out questionnaires at every visit, with the physiotherapist recording pelvic floor muscle function.
The treatments resulted in significant improvements in dyspareunia, sexual function and quality of life over time. The pelvic floor muscle relaxation techniques were reported to be effective, with best results seen at 12 weeks.
The most helpful parts of the treatment, as self-reported, were:
- Pelvic floor muscle exercises (92 per cent)
- Vaginal moisturiser (88 per cent)
- Olive oil (73 per cent)
Vaginal stenosis (narrowed vagina) was unexpectedly found in six cases.
The treatments were deemed a success by the researchers, and the OVERcome treatments appear to be a useful tool in the fight against sexual dysfunction in women with a history of breast cancer.