Vaginal Yeast Infections as a Side Effect of Chemotherapy

The Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Yeast Infections

Young woman receiving chemotherapy, elevated view
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Yeast infections can be a common side effect of cancer treatment. While vaginal yeast infections are already common among healthy women, the probability of developing on of these pesky infections is usually heightened when on chemotherapy drugs, steroids, or strong antibiotics prescribed to treat or prevent bacterial infections.

While yeast infections do not cause adverse health problems, they can be bothersome and irritating.

What Are the Symptoms of a Vaginal Yeast Infection?

The symptoms of vaginal yeast infections are often persistent and can range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms are:

Some women may have all or only one or two symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection. It is important to let your doctor know when you do begin to notice symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms can also be an indication of another condition entirely, so it's best to confirm a diagnosis before self-treating your infection.

How Can I Find Relief from the Uncomfortable Symptoms of My Vaginal Yeast Infection?

Some women have found yeast infection relief with probiotics: foods or supplements that contain live, "friendly" bacteria. Probiotic foods include yogurts that contain live acidophilus, and some milk and juices.

Check the product labeling for keywords like "probiotic" or "acidophilus," as not all yogurts, milk, and juice contain probiotics.

Probiotics are also sold as a supplement in capsule form. They are labeled as "probiotic supplement," "acidophilus," or "lactobacillus." You can find probiotic supplements at your local pharmacy or health food store.

Don't forget to inform your physician of any supplements you are taking.

But again, before you run to the drugstore to pick up an over-the-counter (OTC) yeast infection treatment, call your doctor. It is important that he know what side effects you are experiencing. So many infections can arise during chemotherapy, it is important to confirm that it is indeed a yeast infection before beginning treatment, even it if it OTC. If you are prescribed treatment, remember to finish all of the medication, even if symptoms go away.

How Can I Prevent Future Yeast Infections?

During chemotherapy, it is difficult for the body to ward off infections, so taking preventative measures is even more important than usual. You can prevent yeast infections by:

  • wearing cotton underpants; nylon and lycra should be avoided
  • avoiding pantyhose; if you do wear pantyhose, wear cotton underpants underneath them
  • not wearing swimsuits or leotards for extended periods of time
  • avoiding tight pants
  • not using douches unless directed to by your doctor; these are generally not recommended anyway
  • not using petroleum jelly-based vaginal lubricants, like Vaseline; instead, try water-based lubricants for vaginal dryness and intercourse
  • wipe front to back after using the bathroom to prevent bacteria from entering the vagina

Further Reading

How To Prevent Yeast Infections. Three out of four women will experience at least one yeast infection during her life, many experience recurrent infections. Practicing some of these prevention techniques may help reduce your risk.

What You Need To Know About Vaginal Yeast Infections. How to keep your vagina healthy.

Source:

American Cancer Society. Side Effects of Chemotherapy on Reproduction & Sexuality in Women.

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