Vaginal dilation associated with pelvic radiotherapy: a UK survey of current practice

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This paper presents results from the first UK national survey of patient information and interventions related to vaginal dilation in pelvic radiotherapy (RT). The aim was to elicit current practice with regard to the target population, content/process of patient education, and the evaluation of compliance in relation to this intervention. A 38-item questionnaire was sent to all RT departments (n = 65) and a convenience sample of specialist gynecological oncology nurses (n = 166), with response rates of 62% (n = 40) and 31% (n = 52), respectively. Data analysis (via SPSS v11) used both descriptive and inferential statistics. Divergence of opinion was evident regarding the specific target audience for dilator education, and only a limited number of elements of vaginal dilator technique achieved consensus. Sixty-seven percent of respondents stated they carried out a wider sexual health assessment associated with the provision of dilator information, although its content varied considerably. Results suggest the provision of vaginal dilation advice may benefit from being placed in the wider context of assessing treatment impact on women's sexual health, raising the profile of appropriate psychosexual assessment, and intervention in clinical oncology practice. Further research could determine the efficacy of vaginal dilation in preventing development of vaginal stenosis among women receiving pelvic RT.

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