A clinical trial to look at better ways of managing one of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatments – vaginal dryness – is underway under the auspices of the  Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

As breast cancer survival rates continue to improve, the need to better manage side-effects of the long-term, life-saving treatments also grows, said Dr. Polly Niravath, an assistant professor in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the survivorship clinic at the Harris Health System’s Smith Clinic. Some side effects so severely affect the quality of life that some women discontinue the treatment for their breast cancer too early, said Niravath. That could make them more likely to have recurrent disease.

She and her colleagues hope that a new vaginal ring that delivers estrogen therapy directly may improve the problems of vaginal dryness without increasing the risk of breast cancer. The ring promotes only minimal absorption of estrogen, she said.

In the study, breast cancer survivors with vaginal dryness will be assigned at random to receive either the vaginal estrogen ring or a vaginal moisturizer, the usual treatment for the condition. They will then determine which treatment works best with the fewest side effects.

The study is important because it could enable patient to continue their preventive treatments longer.

“Women who have had estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer may continue taking endocrine therapy to prevent recurrence for up to five years,” said Niravath. “This medicine is known to be highly effective in prolonging breast cancer survival.”

Yet as many as half of women taking a type of medicine called  an aromatase inhibitor as a preventive to prevent recurrence of breath cancer discontinue the drug by the third year, main because of side effects, she said.

“Improving symptoms of vaginal dryness may be a very effective method of improving compliance issues among breast cancer survivors, and in return continuing to maintain and improve on survival rates,” Niravath said.

Breast cancer survivors interested in enrolling must be taking an aromatase inhibitor (Arimidex, Femara, or Aromasin) and have vaginal dryness, as manifested by itching, discomfort, recurrent urinary tract infection or pain with intercourse.  

For more information on the study or to enroll, contact Claudette Foreman at 713-798-7315 or caforema@bcm.edu.