Jodi Glanville was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. To fight the disease, doctors removed her ovaries, uterus and cervix. They also performed a double mastectomy.
“Women don’t realize what all those body parts are really for,” Glanville said. “It became painful. Not just intimacy but on a daily basis.”
In addition to surgery, Glanville was placed on a hormone blocker. She began experiencing genital atrophy after her cancer treatment.
Genital atrophy is caused by the thinning and drying of the vaginal wall, which can lead to inflammation and painful urinary symptoms. The condition most commonly occurs in women after menopause but can also happen in breast cancer patients and others.
Dr. Jon Dangerfield, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, treats patients with this condition. “When it’s a timely menopause or a surgically induced menopause, a lot of these women unfortunately develop this genital atrophy syndrome,” Dr. Dangerfield said.
The treatments for genital atrophy are limited. Some patients can be treated with regional hormone, like estrogen. For patients like Glanville, it’s not recommended to undergo estrogen therapy.
That’s where the fractional CO2 laser procedure comes in. Also called the Mona Lisa procedure, the fractional CO2 laser is a medical treatment used to relieve symptoms like chronic burning, itching and irritation caused by genital atrophy.
“This was the safest procedure for me to do — the only procedure really,” Glanville said.
Short procedure with noticeable results
During the procedure, the doctor uses a laser energy to create shallow holes in the vaginal wall tissue. The small holes stimulate the body’s natural response system.
“The body’s reparative cells come in and actually rejuvenate or seal this skin,” Dr. Dangerfield says. “You’re working with the body to try to heal itself by triggering that activation through the laser grid.”
An appointment usually lasts around 45 minutes. Patients receive a numbing cream to minimize discomfort during the procedure and wait 30 minutes for the cream to take effect.
The procedure portion of the appointment is usually short and painless.
“The actual laser is very quick and usually takes us about five to 10 minutes at most,” Dr. Dangerfield said. “I have yet to have a patient that’s had any discomfort with the procedure.”
The treatment typically involves three to four appointments. While each patient’s experience is different, Dr. Dangerfield said most patients see a large improvement in their symptoms by the third visit.
“By the time the majority of them have gone through the third procedure, their symptoms are markedly improved. Most of them gone, but some of them, even if those symptoms are improved, their quality of life is so much better.”
For Glanville, the results have been noticeable. “I know it’s helped tremendously,” she said.
She encourages others who are experiencing symptoms to try the treatment. “Definitely, I would do it. I would recommend it to anybody, even if you haven’t gone through cancer treatment.”
Old technology, new treatment
Dr. Dangerfield says the technology for the procedure has been used for decades. “The CO2 laser has been around for many, many years. I trained with it, I’m embarrassed to say, 30 years ago, and that was a non-fractional laser.”
While the laser has been used for years in other treatments, its use in this procedure is fairly new. “The laser has been around. The processing unit is what is new and the ability to do something with this laser differently.”
New treatments can often come at a higher cost, Dr. Dangerfield said, though he expects the cost for the procedure to decrease as more patients become aware of it as an option.
“We’re hoping as we get the word out, this will become a much more popular treatment that will apply a little bit of pressure to our regional insurance payers.”
Dr. Dangerfield and others hope to offer the procedure to more patients soon.
“It has new benefits for patients that really we weren’t able to offer up until a few years ago, so we’re pretty excited about it. We’re trying to get it out so that women and their providers are aware of it.”
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