Background: In women with cervical cancer, treatment causes changes in vaginal anatomy and function. The effect of these changes on sexual function and the extent, if any, to which they distress women are not known.
Methods: In 1996 and 1997, we attempted to contact 332 women with a history of early-stage cervical cancer (age range, 26 to 80 years) who had been treated in 1991 and 1992 at the seven departments of gynecological oncology in Sweden and 489 women without a history of cancer (controls) to ask them to answer an anonymous questionnaire about vaginal changes and sexual function.
Results: We received completed questionnaires from 256 of the women with a history of cervical cancer and 350 of the controls. A total of 167 of 247 women with a history of cancer (68 percent) and 236 of 330 controls (72 percent) reported that they had regular vaginal intercourse. Twenty-six percent of the women who had cancer and 11 percent of the controls reported insufficient vaginal lubrication for sexual intercourse, 26 percent of the women who had cancer and 3 percent of the controls reported a short vagina, and 23 percent of the women who had cancer and 4 percent of the controls reported an insufficiently elastic vagina. Twenty-six percent of the women who had cancer reported moderate or much distress due to vaginal changes, as compared with 8 percent of the women in the control group. Dyspareunia was also more common among the women who had cervical cancer. The frequency of orgasms and orgasmic pleasure was similar in the two groups. Among the women who had cervical cancer, the type of treatment received had little if any effect on the prevalence of specific vaginal changes.
Conclusions: Women who have been treated for cervical cancer have persistent vaginal changes that compromise sexual activity and result in considerable distress.