VALPARAISO | Erin Mager was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, later discovering she had a gene, BRCA1, that made it likely she would eventually get the disease in her ovaries. So the then-34-year-old underwent a hysterectomy, which gave her early onset menopause.
In the past, her only option for reversing symptoms of menopause would have been hormone therapy, which carries a cancer risk. But a few months back, her OB-GYN office started offering a new technology that would restore her sex life.
"It's essentially been a godsend for me," said Mager, a surgical assistant who lives in Valparaiso. "At 36, no one wants to have these symptoms. "
Obstetrical & Gynecological Associates recently became the first practice in Northwest Indiana to offer the MonaLisa Touch, a short, painless procedure for vaginal rejuvenation. It is said to help post-menopausal women and breast cancer survivors overcome painful intercourse, dryness and itching.
"We wanted to bring light to this issue because this can be a very sensitive topic," said Dr. Crystal Strickland of Obstetrical & Gynecological Associates. "A lot of women are suffering in silence and don't think there's a treatment."
In 2010, there were more than 46 million women between the ages of 50 and 80, the typical age for being past menopause. There are also roughly 250,000 annual diagnoses of breast cancer, a disease with a survival rate of nearly 90 percent at five years.
Strickland explained that the laser therapy restores collagen in the vaginal tissue. It consists of three treatments that last about five minutes and requires no anesthesia, though insurance doesn't currently cover the procedure.
Among the women who have undergone the therapy is a 52-year-old grandmother from Valparaiso who asked to remain anonymous. She said that after her second treatment at the OB-GYN office she was back to normal, the itching and dryness from menopause reversed.
"I didn't realize how bad it was because the symptoms had come on so slowly," she said. "I would say we're really lucky to have this in our area."