Women who reported douching almost doubled their risk of developing ovarian cancer, a national U.S. study shows.
Prior studies have linked douching, or vaginal washing with a device, to yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancies.
Researchers have also found associations between douching and cervical cancer, reduced fertility, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
But the new National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences study is the first to tie cancer of the ovaries to the procedure routinely practiced by millions of American women.
Joelle Brown, an epidemiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco said that although she knew about other health problems associated with douching, the link between douching and ovarian cancer took her by surprise.
‘While most doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly recommend that women do not douche, many women continue to douche because they falsely perceive douching to have positive health benefits, such as increased cleanliness,’ she said.
Brown was not involved in the current study.
Interventions to encourage women not to douche are needed, she said.
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Ovarian cancer is known as ‘the silent killer’ because women often experience no symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.
An estimated 20,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and about 14,500 die from it annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The new analysis in the journal Epidemiology followed more than 41,000 women throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico since 2003 as part of the Sister Study.
Participants were 35 to 74 years old, and each had a sister who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The subjects were free of breast and ovarian cancer when they enrolled in the study.
By July 2014, researchers counted 154 cases of ovarian cancer among participants.