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.
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. 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!”
However, Dr. Croak cautions women that, “Inferior imitators are surfacing and making the claim that they treat GSM under the guise of ‘vaginal rejuvenation.’ The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as the American Urogynecologic Society have a very clear position statement that vaginal rejuvenation has no scientific basis and should not be offered to patients. Despite this clear statement, there appears to be an increasing population of non-pelvic specialists without physician supervision opportunistically trying to offer these procedures for their aesthetic clientele. They are often retrofitting old cosmetic lasers and radiofrequency devices in order to provide this service without due diligence making sure the patient has had a proper gynecologic exam. Furthermore, they are not offering appropriate gynecologic follow-up should any issues arise.”
Dr. Croak has seen several complications from these so-called laser centers, including an unfortunate patient from Detroit who underwent a “vaginal rejuvenative” procedure for vaginal pain. “It was found that 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. “A few other patients who had frustrating vaginal-rejuvenation knock-off treatments called me for a second opinion because after they had their treatments elsewhere and experienced problems, they were told by the treating non-pelvic specialist to go to the ER because they don’t treat gynecologic problems.”
The bottom line is that patients have to be smart consumers. “It’s vital for women to understand that when they are signing up for the Mona Lisa Touch procedure, they are getting the only FDA-approved treatment for menopausal genitourinary symptoms, backed by over 21 robust research studies, and provided by experts in female pelvic medicine who can answer all questions about pelvic health and address any additional gynecologic issues a patient may have,” he says.
For more information on Mona Lisa Touch or to schedule an appointment, please call the Northwest Ohio Center for Urogynecology & Women’s Health at 419-893-7134. Financial incentives and discounts are available for this therapy.❦