Hormones just may make the world go ’round. Just ask a woman who has experienced breast cancer. It’s the fuel that feeds about 90 percent of breast cancer diagnoses, which means after treatment many survivors spend years taking meds that block estrogen or are unable to take hormone replacements , which makes a vaginal laser suddenly seem a lot more important.
“Vaginal atrophy is where erectile dysfunction was years ago,” says Dr. David Benson, a urologist with Queen City Urology in New Iberia. “Everyone knew about it, but no one talked about it.”
Vaginal atrophy isn’t a result for every woman with breast cancer, but it is the result of a having less estrogen. Simply put, it’s the thinning and drying and inflammation of vaginal walls. It can make sex near impossible without pain and cause discomfort, including problems with the urinary tract. The solution for many has long been a hormone cream. But for women who won’t (or can’t) risk hormones, there’s been no option.
“I see women who have been miserable for years. Some are sent by oncologists,” Benson says.
The aforementioned vaginal laser was developed in Italy in 2008 and approved in this country in 2014. There are three in the state (the other two are in Baton Rouge), and it’s a quick and surprisingly painless procedure.
“It’s not a technically challenging procedure in terms of surgery,” Benson says. “It can treat the vagina and vulva and depending on what they need treated, it’s a painless five minutes or less and the patient goes home. One went to the gym and worked out and others go back to work.”
Quite simply the laser stimulates new growth of collagen and elastin and makes tissues function as they did before the loss of estrogen. If it sounds familiar, it’s because this type of laser treatment has been done in a similar form for the face to eliminate wrinkles. It’s not a permanent fix. Rather, it’s a quick and painless procedure with three sessions that only needs maintenance annually with one session.
“You’re getting the benefit of estrogen without estrogen,” Benson says. “The tissue behaves like it has estrogen. It’s local.”
Insurance doesn’t cover the procedure, and the trio of treatments comes in at $2,500. Benson offers a discount to breast cancer survivors.
“It’s a unique patient population that is stuck,” he says. “It’s about quality of life. They have painful intercourse and urgency and frequency, and it burns when they pee and the tissues are irritated. It’s a whole complex of symptoms. Some women haven’t had sex in years because it’s too painful, some women have had to have a hysterectomy at a young age, [and others] who are gun shy on estrogen and its potential side effects.”
The urologist says he began offering the service as a solution to a problem for women that no one is talking about. He wants to see that change.
“Their quality of life is going down at 60.
Today 60 is the new 40,” Benson says.
Local lingerie shop caters to survivors.
La Femme has long been the place women go to feel sexy. And thanks to the efforts of owner Claudia Campbell, the shop is going the extra mile to ensure that feeling for many local cancer survivors.
The mission of La Femme’s Post Mastectomy Care division is “to find the perfect fit for mastectomy bras, breast form, post surgical camisoles and lymphedema sleeves.”
Campbell completed a process with the state to earn a Medicare accreditation from the Board of Certification/Accreditation, which means she has successfully demonstrated compliance with standards from Medicare and Medicaid that focus on providing this type of quality care.
The Parc Lafayette store opened in 2002, offering fine lingerie and foundations along with sleepwear. But Campbell says with the growth of the area’s population in recent years, she began to see an increasing need to meet the needs of women facing life after a mastectomy.
“La Femme provides a compassionate, comfortable environment for post mastectomy patients to receive the proper care and undivided attention in a dignified and private setting,” Campbell says.