Your vagina may shorten and narrow after having surgery or radiation treatments. Your doctor suggests that you use a dilator to help keep the vagina at its normal size. Pelvic exams and intercourse can be more comfortable as a result. If you have any questions about this handout, please ask your nurse or doctor.
How Often to Use
Radiotherapy Patients: The dilator should be used daily during your treatments. Keep using it for at least two years after your treatments are finished. Most patients start to use the dilator toward the end of their treatments. If you are not sexually active, you may need to keep using it once or twice a week after the two years are up. Doing this will help to maintain the vagina’s normal size. Your doctor will tell you when the dilator is no longer needed.
Surgery Patients: If you have had pelvic surgery, you should wait to begin using the dilator until the incisions are healed (about 1 month). Use it for the length of time prescribed by your doctor.
How to Insert
Below are the steps for you to follow. Your nurse will help you with the placement, if needed, until you feel you are able to do it by yourself.
- Lie on your back with your knees up and apart as you would for a pelvic exam. If you have trouble placing the dilator this way, try standing with one foot on a low stool or the side of a bathtub.
- Use a water-soluble lubricant, like K-Y Jelly® or Liquid Silk®. This will make it easier to insert. Apply to the large end of the dilator. Once you are comfortable using your dilator, you may choose to use it while bathing. The water during your bath or shower may be enough lubrication. Do not use Vaseline® or other oil based lubricants because they may irritate your tissues.
- Gently press the large end of the dilator into the vagina, pointing it toward the small of your back. Insert it as far back as you can without causing any pain. Do not force. The dilator should slide gently into the back of the vagina if it is has the right amount of lubricant and is in the right place. If it is hard to insert, try to relax your abdominal and pelvic muscles using slow deep breathing. This should not cause pain if done on a routine basis. If you are still unable to insert it, ask a nurse for help.
- Once in place, slowly count to 30 while keeping firm hand pressure on the dilator. When you reach the count of 30, gently remove it.
- Once you have become comfortable with using the dilator, start pushing the dilator gently in all directions inside the vagina (push left, right, up and down) to help stretch the tissue more. This same movement should be used when you reach the end of the vagina and when taking the dilator out.
- Wash your dilator with warm water after each use. Do not use soap, as this can irritate your tissue. Store in a clean, dry place.
What Happens If . . .
- You have drainage, slight bloody discharge, or spotting from the vagina that increases after using the dilator? This is normal. Do not be alarmed. If you are concerned, call your nurse or doctor, but keep using the dilator.
- You have some discomfort or pain while using the dilator? This will not harm you or make your condition worse. You should discuss this with your doctor or nurse. You may need a smaller dilator or some more guidelines on how to use it. Sometimes, the doctor may suggest that you stop using it.
You may have intercourse as long as it does not cause severe pain or heavy bleeding. Lubrication with a product, such as Replens® or Liquid Silk®, may help since your tissues are likely to be dry and less elastic.
If you have any questions or problems, please be sure to call your nurse or doctor.
Monday through Friday 8:00am -4:30pm
Radiotherapy Clinic: (608) 263-8500
Gynecology Oncology Clinic: (608) 263-7010
After hours, the phone will be answered by the paging operator. Ask for the doctor on call for the clinic. Leave your name and phone number with the area code. The doctor will call you back.
If you live out of the area, please call: 1-800-323-8942.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 07/08/2011
Copyright © 07/08/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4609
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