Following menopause, approximately 60% of women experience a condition known as genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM). GSM is made up of multiple symptoms including vaginal itching, irritation, and dryness. Additional symptoms might include urinary urgency, dysuria, and increased nighttime voiding. The most significant symptom, however, is painful intercourse due to vaginal atrophy. As a result, intimacy is affected and interpersonal relationships can become strained. Unfortunately, many women in this population suffer in silence, believing it to be an inevitable part of the aging process.
According to urogynecologist Dr. Andrew Croak, Director of the Northwest Ohio Center for Urogynecology & Women’s Health, GSM develops due to the reduction in a woman’s estrogen level following a menopausal state. “The whole pelvic floor is very estrogen dependent,” he explains. “As a woman’s estrogen level decreases and the receptors are no longer fed, the blood supply to those tissues decreases and they go from being lush, thick, and well-moistened to being thinner, dryer, more delicate, and much more sensitive. In some cases, the tissue is so thin and tender, that a simple swipe from a q-tip can actually cause bleeding.
Dr. Croak notes that breast cancer survivors are among the women who are highly vulnerable to GSM. “We have had very poignant stories of women who, in treating their breast cancers with anti-estrogens or oophorectomy, had their GSM symptoms become extremely severe. Mona Lisa Touch was able to ward off the effects of these breast cancer treatments on their vaginal health and restore their levels of comfort and confidence in being intimate. We’ve also received testimonials touting the program’s overwhelming success from several women who attend the Victory Center,” he states.
To help bring relief to other area breast cancer survivors who may be enduring symptoms of GSM, Dr. Croak and the Northwest Ohio Center for Urogynecology & Women’s Health have set the goal of working with Susan G. Komen Northwest Ohio to educate the women that organization serves on the benefits of Mona Lisa Touch. “Also, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we will be giving breast cancer survivors substantial discounts on the Mona Lisa Touch treatment package through October,” Dr. Croak adds.
Other populations that suffer exponentially with GSM are those that cannot take hormones due to thromboembolic disease, and those with lichen sclerosis. “In fact, we have had our greatest successes with lichen sclerosis patients. Every patient with the disease that we’ve treated with this technology has seen improvement. Other younger patients with vulvodynia and dryness from prolonged birth control pill use or breastfeeding have also seen benefit,” comments Dr. Croak.
FDA-approved Mona Lisa Touch is a CO2 fractional laser that delivers gentle laser energy to medically treat the vaginal wall. The laser stimulates fibroblastic growth, which in turn helps generate a new blood supply and stimulates collagen production. As a consequence, the thickness, elasticity, and moistness of the vaginal tissues increase while sensitivity, pain, and irritation decrease. It is the only vaginal laser instrument with a true medical indication that has been scientifically validated with numerous trials and ongoing grants.
The great news is, with the advent of this painless, in-office, non-hormonal procedure, offered first in the area by the Northwest Ohio Center for Urogynecology & Women’s Health, women can actually achieve complete resolution of these unpleasant symptoms and reclaim a higher quality of life. The therapy is administered over the course of three in-office treatments spaced six weeks apart, and each session takes less than five minutes. Dr. Croak notes that the treatments are as easy as undergoing an annual Pap smear with a speculum but don’t take as long.
Thus far, the outcomes for patients undergoing Mona Lisa Touch therapy have been remarkable. “After the first treatment, we’re seeing 85% improvement, with many women able to participate in pain-free intercourse for the first time in years. By the end of the third treatment, the improvement rate is nearly 100%. Recent one-year data shows that 92% of patients are still satisfied. Our success rates match that reported in international data,” says Dr. Croak.
Testimonials speak for themselves. One patient said, “I don’t have the dryness and itchiness and burning. As far as leakage is concerned, I don’t have that anymore.” Another patient from New York City exclaimed, “This is a gift from God that I was able to get my life back. Intimacy is only one part of it. I would like other women to know that there is help out there, it is for real, and it works!”
Dr. Croak strongly emphasizes that women should be informed consumers. “Several inferior imitators are surfacing and making the claim that they treat GSM under the false guise of ‘vaginal rejuvenation, The American Congress of OB/GYN’s 2016 Committee Opinion clearly states, ‘These procedures are not medically indicated, and the safety and effectiveness of these procedures have not been documented.’These imitators are often retrofitted cosmetic lasers being touted at medi-spas by individuals with no training in female pelvic health,” he says.
Whereas CO2 fractional laser of the vulva and vagina with Mona Lisa Touch has an FDA-approved medical indication and is required to be delivered by a physician in the state of Ohio, many competitors are used for a cosmetic indication. “We recently had an unfortunate patient from Detroit consult with us because she underwent a ‘vaginal rejuvenative’ procedure for vaginal pain. It was found her pain was actually an underlying vaginal cancer. The directing physician, who is not a gynecologist, did not examine her but had his staff provide treatment. To add insult to injury, she also paid double what most gynecologic specialists would charge for Mona Lisa Touch,” says Dr. Croak.
The bottom line is, at the Northwest Ohio Center for Urogynecology & Women’s Health, women will get a scientifically validated and FDA-approved treatment for a fair value by a physician who specializes in female pelvic health and can address additional gynecologic concerns.❦