Many physical changes from radiotherapy can lead to difficulty with body image. For example, some women may experience skin thickening, contractures and severe tightening as well as changes in texture, color and feel of the skin in any body area that has been radiated.
Vaginal fibrosis and shortening of the vaginal vault can be caused by intravaginal radiation treatments. This can result in a decreased ability to accomplish penetrative intercourse and/or decreased sensitivity of the clitoris and surrounding genitalia. General physical symptoms which can result from administration of radiation can include: fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and frequent voiding, pubic and cephalic hair loss. The dramatic exhaustion and feeling generally “unwell” during active radiation treatments often contributes to a woman’s lack of interest in pursuing sexual intimacy.
In addition, patients and/or their partners often have unfounded concerns related to the myth that radiation therapy can cause patients to be ‘radioactive’ and “contagious”. Care must be taken by the healthcare provider to dispel this common fear.