Vaginal changes

Treatments for vulvar cancer can also affect the vagina.

Radiation therapy targeted to the vulva can make the area tender during treatment and for a few weeks afterwards. In the long term, this irritation can cause scarring, which may make the vagina drier, narrower, shorter and less flexible (vaginal stenosis).

Surgery for vulvar cancer may cause scar tissue to form around the outside of the vulva, narrowing the entrance to the vagina. This can make intercourse painful.

Changes to your body can affect the way you feel about yourself  (your self-esteem) and make you feel self-conscious. You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do. Try to see yourself as a whole person (body, mind and personality) instead of focusing on the parts that have changed.

Tips for managing changes to the vagina

  • Keeping the vagina open and supple can make vaginal sex more comfortable, but it is important even if you don’t plan to be sexually active. It will allow your doctor to do a vaginal examination at follow-up visits to check for a recurrence of cancer, as well as regular cervical screening tests.
  • If cancer treatment has narrowed or shortened the vagina, you may be advised to use a vaginal dilator to help keep the vagina open and prevent it from closing over.
  • Vaginal dilators are tube-shaped devices made from plastic or rubber. They come in different sizes. Begin with the smallest dilator and progress to larger ones as each size becomes more comfortable.
  • Find a quiet, private place. Using a water-based lubricant, slowly insert a dilator into the vagina. Leave it there for 5–10 minutes. You will need to do this 3–5 times a week, usually for many months.
  • Your nurse, doctor or physiotherapist will provide the dilators or let you know where to buy them, and give you more detailed instructions about when and how to start using them.
  • Ask your doctor if applying a hormone cream or a vaginal moisturiser will help with vaginal discomfort and dryness. Hormone creams are available on prescription, while vaginal moisturisers are available over- the-counter from pharmacies.
  • Some women like to use vibrators (available from sex shops and online) to gradually widen the vagina. Talk to your treatment team if you would prefer to use vibrators instead of vaginal dilators.
  • Although dryness, shortening and narrowing of the vagina can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or difficult, having intercourse regularly – if you are able to and want to – may help keep the vagina open.
  • Using a water-based or silicone-based lubricant, such as Sylk, Pjur or Astroglide, and trying different sexual positions can help. Learn more tips on managing sexual changes
  • Some women do not have a sexual partner or do not feel emotionally or physically ready to have penetrative sex after cancer treatment. If you’re in this situation, talk to your doctor about using dilators to keep your vagina open.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on vulvar and vaginal cancers.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in October 2018
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