Women who douche their vaginas are twice as likely to suffer from ovarian cancer, research has found. Ovarian cancer has been dubbed 'the silent killer' because women often experience no symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.
Vaginal douching has become increasing popular among some women and can involve feminine cleansing washes via small devices used in the shower to effectively 'rinse' out a vagina. Proponents say this keeps the genital area fresh and banishes bacteria. But opponents argue it has no medical basis and is solely due to social stigma about vaginas being stigmatised and perceived as 'unclean'. It changes the natural balance of healthy bacteria and can make it easier to pick up infections. Experts say that vagina is self-cleansing.
‘Women who douche their vaginas increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer by two times. This practice causes imbalance in the healthy vaginal flora and makes it vulnerable to infection and other conditions.’
Douching has been linked to increased risk in yeast infections, as it is thought it may push the bacteria causing and infection to other areas such as the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science monitored more than 40,000 women in the US and Puerto Rico over the course of a year. The subjects, who were between 35 years to 74 years of age, were free of breast and ovarian cancer when the study began. Each had a sister who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. By the end of this period, 154 of the women had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
The study found that participants who reported douching during the year before entering the study nearly doubled their risk of ovarian cancer.
However, the precise link between the two is unknown as correlation does not necessarily indicate causation. Other factors could be at play, including that women who notice discomfort or infections in their genital area are more likely to douche while also indicating poor ovarian health.
Assistant Clinical Professor of gynecologic oncology at Columbia University Ana Isabel Tergas said, "The quality of the study is very good and so I would definitely consider the study findings to be valid. And the reason why this is the beginning is the relationship between douching and ovarian cancer hasn't been studied previously. We like to see these types of studies replicated once or twice." She added that douching could be a marker for cancer.
Clinical Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at New York University Raquel B. Dardik said "Women who douche may do so because they have more infections, and perhaps the higher infections lead to more inflammation in the tissues which could increase the incidence of cancer."
Senior author Clarice Weinberg commented "There are a number of health reasons not to douche, and I can't think of any reason to do it."
In the UK, around 7,100 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year and long-term survival rate is only 35%. An estimated 20,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and about 14,500 die from it annually, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).