Maryann Schroder tested the Eros clitoral therapy device (CTD) on 13 women diagnosed with cervical cancer who experienced sexual dysfunction after radiation treatment, which is a common complaint.
The device works by applying a gentle, noninvasive vacuum to the clitoris to increase blood flow to the genitalia. The women did this four times a week for three months.
"It's like sexual rehabilitation," says Schroder, a University of Chicago clinical sexologist who presented her findings this week at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology annual meeting in New Orleans.
All 13 women tested had significant improvement in their sexual desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and reduction of pain, she found at the three-month follow-up.
This year, 13,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, according to American Cancer Society estimates, and the disease will claim 4,100 lives.
The $395 device, available only with a doctor's prescription, is a soft, hand-held cup and battery-powered vacuum unit that works by engorging the clitoris with blood. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for treatment in April of 2000. Besides the device, the only other cost is to replace the batteries and the cups that are placed over the clitoris.
"Cervical cancer and, specifically, radiation therapy, have pretty devastating effects physically," Schroder says. "So they are [also] quite impaired sexually. They have dryness of the vagina, and the vagina may be narrowed and shrunken down in size. They have impaired sensation because there may be nerve damage. Blood vessels may be interfered with because of radiation damage."
The women used the device on their own or as part of sexual foreplay, Schroder says. The results were better than she expected, she says.
The Eros device is definitely an improvement over standard treatment, she says. "Usually doctors give patients a vaginal dilator, and this is used once a day to keep the vagina open, to allow sexual activity involving intercourse."
Besides the improvement in sexual arousal, Schroder says, some women experienced an end to vaginal bleeding, which in turn allowed repeat Pap tests to be done more quickly to be sure all the cancer was gone.
"In a follow-up study we hope to start this treatment sooner to prevent sexual dysfunction," Schroder says. In her current study, women started to use the device one year after treatment, after the dysfunction had already set in.
The study was funded by the device manufacturer, UroMetrics Inc., at Schroder's request. "We are very excited that Eros therapy has worked so well for these women," says Claire Hovland, the company's chief executive officer. "It's a wonderful surprise. No one thought that all women would benefit from the device after radiation."
"It seems like a worthwhile study," says Dr. Gustavo Montana, a Duke University radiation oncologist. "Patients treated with radiation [for cervical cancer] can have very significant sexual dysfunction."
What To Do
The study was small, so there's no guarantee that the device will help everyone.