Saturday, October 18, 2008

Aromatase Inhibitors, Vaginal Atrophy and Sexuality

It is hard to put this to words – the way that I know my spirituality and sexuality to be intimately connected. There is an energy – an aliveness – that I am aware of when I am in touch with my sexuality. This does not necessarily mean that I am having great sex with my husband. It is something much broader that carries through my whole day, into every corner and cranny of my life. It’s how I know myself, a deep joy in my bodily existence that I can tap into at any time.

Aromatase Inihibitors – Femara for me – brought all of this to an abrupt stop. Extreme vaginal dryness not only has made sexual intercourse painful and something that I fear (what if my skin in there tears? what if I get another urinary infection?) but also has confused my sense of sexuality.

I have been taking Femara for 9 months. After using a myriad of over the counter creams and gels, 3 major urinary tract infections and repeated complaining about the discomforts of vaginal dryness, both my oncologist and my gynecologist have recommended that I use Vagifem. Vaginal atrophy is progressive, they tell me, and will not get better with time. It most likely will get worse.

This is confusing and scary to me.

The articles on the Internet say that Vagifem is not recommended to women taking AIs because it counters the effect of the AI – blocking all estrogen from the system. Estrogen levels are elevated in the blood of women using Vagifem with an AI.

So, I would be taking a drug ($30 a month) to block estrogen, and another one ($30 a month) to put estrogen back in.

Money matters aside, I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off stopping both drugs.

I’m annoyed about all those years that doctors were prescribing estrogen, en masse, to menopausal women. The drug companies made a bundle before they discovered that estrogen increased the incidence of breast cancer.

Now the drug companies are making a bundle on estrogen-blocking drugs taken by all those women who got breast cancer. Who is to say that in a few years we won’t find the down side of these drugs?

Doesn’t Nature know best how to manage the hormones in my body?

And then there is the cancer worry. What is it that caused my body to develop breast cancer? Something in the environment? Hormone pumped cows? The synthetic estrogen that I took 10 years ago?
Will an estrogen free body keep the breast cancer from returning, and should I diligently pursue this approach, even if it means no sex and urinary infections?

I have many questions.