The feminine hygiene routine linked to ovarian cancer

New research has shown women who reported douching have almost double the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Prior studies have linked douching (vaginal washing with a device) to yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancies, decreased fertility and cervical cancer. Researchers have also found associations between douching, and HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women do not douche, however potentially due to misconceptions about hygiene woman continue to do so.

The link between ovarian cancer and this routine could be due to the increase in the harmful chemical called phthalates that enter into our body after douching. Phthalates are known to disrupt the body's hormones.  Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics flexible, as lubricants or fragrances in cosmetics, and are found in many feminine hygiene products.

Female reproductive system

Douching can also possibly force tissue, menstrual fluids, or harmful bacteria up the reproductive tract resulting in pelvic inflammation of the fallopian tubes, uterus or ovaries. This inflammation and infection can potentially contribute to ovarian cancer risk.

This new study, conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences between 2003-2009, studied more than 41,000 women aged 35 to 74. This study is the first to make the link between douching and ovarian cancer (grouped together with fallopian and peritoneal cancer). The participants did not have a history of breast or ovarian cancer when the study began.

At the start of the study participants completed a self-reported questionnaire about douching use during the previous 12 months before enrollment in the study. Participants were grouped into use and non-use categories. During follow-up (median of 6.6 years) 154 participants reported a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Douching was associated with almost double the increased risk of ovarian cancer (HR: 1.8 CI: 1.2, 2.8). There may be other factors contributing to the connection such as women who notice discomfort or infections in their genital area may be more likely to douche.

A previous study, published in the journal Environmental Health in 2015 found there were increased traces of phthalates in women who regularly douche. Researchers compared douching products and urine samples for traces of phthalates in 739 women. Women who reported douching twice or more a month had 152% higher traces of phthalate byproduct in their urine than non-users.

There are many feminine hygiene products and devices for sale today for vaginal washing. However, the majority of gynaecologists will recommend that douching poses too many risks and has no health benefits. 

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  • Jenny James 23/11/2016 9:08pm (7 years ago)

    great blog Prof!! Our bodies do not need to be cleaned with anything other than a normal shower! In the 70's and right through to the late 90's I used talcum powder..I often joked that I owned Johnston & Johnstons..I mean I caked it on in underwear, on pads and all in the name of hygiene! How misinformed and naive I was! But 4 years in with my OC now at age 52 and not BRACA gene or family history to blame I will pass the hygiene message on to anyone who listens! Just use water and safe soap!! Now I shall get off my non soap box!!

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