Side-effects of vaginal cancer surgery

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General side-effects

With all surgeries there is a small risk of bleeding and infection. Read more about general side-effects of surgery.

Bladder side-effects

You might find it is hard to empty your bladder if you’ve had a radical hysterectomy. You may have a tube (catheter) to drain your bladder for a week or more after surgery. After the tube is removed, your bladder may still be slow and need to be emptied with a catheter on and off. 

Bowel side-effects

You may get constipated, as your bowels may be lazy after surgery. You may need to take a laxative for a few months.

Sexual problems

Surgery can create scar tissue that can cause narrowing and shortening of the vagina. This can make sex uncomfortable. There are ways to help with this, such as dilation, which means using a dilator or vibrator to stretch the vagina. Read more about vaginal dilation. 

Vaginal surgery can also lead to vaginal dryness, which can make sex uncomfortable.  
If your clitoris is removed it will affect your ability to have an orgasm. Read more about sexual side-effects

Sex after vaginal reconstruction

Sex after a vaginal reconstruction can feel different. This may put you off having sex. It’s common for woman to feel frightened or scared at first, but many woman feel taking things slow and practising different positions with their partner can help them to enjoy sex again. Your consultant or liaison nurse can help to put you in touch with a sexual counsellor if you feel you need extra support.

Emotional effects

Most women feel shocked and upset at the thought of surgery to the vagina. The trauma of surgery and the cancer diagnosis as well as the treatment can all affect your sex life. 

There are treatments and supports to help you if you’re having sexual problems. Read more about sexual side-effects of cancer treatments and get advice to help you cope.  If you want to talk to a cancer nurse in confidence, call 1800 200 700, go to a Daffodil Centre or email the nurses at cancernurseline@irishcancer.ie

Early menopause

If your ovaries are removed during surgery, you will go into early menopause. This may involve hot flushes, dry skin, dryness of your vagina, reduced sexual desire, night sweats, mood swings, poor concentration and osteoporosis. Read more about managing menopausal symptoms.

Risk of blood clots

Surgery in your pelvis puts you at risk of clotting in the deep veins of your legs and body (called DVT). You may have to have injections to prevent this for a month after surgery. You or a member of your family will be invited to learn how to give the injection. It is very easy. Getting up and about and exercising your legs is most important in preventing DVT.

Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema is a build-up of fluid in your legs, which can make them swell up.  This can happen any time after your surgery if your lymph glands are removed. When the glands are removed, they can no longer drain away excess fluid in your body. Read more about lymphoedema.

Other complications

Very rarely, serious complications happen after radical surgeries like hysterectomy or pelvic extenteration. These can include leakage from the bladder or bowel or narrowing of the tubes that bring the urine from the kidneys to the bladder. You may need more surgery to help these problems.

Fertility

If you have a hysterectomy, you will no longer be able to have children. Read more about fertility.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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