Women who douche are nearly twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer compared to women who don’t douche, according to a study published in the journal Epidemiology.
Douching has had a bad rap for years. Studies have linked such vaginal washing with a device to yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancies, and other research has implied a link between douching and cervical cancer, reduced fertility, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The latest study, conducted by researchers with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is the first to link douching to ovarian cancer.
The study tracked more than 41,000 women in the U.S. and Puerto Rico ages 35 to 74 years since 2003. Each participant had a sister who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but was free of breast or ovarian cancer at the start of the study. In 2014, researchers noted 154 cases of ovarian cancer among women participating in the study.
Women who said they douched during the year before the study were nearly twice as likely to have ovarian cancer. The link was even greater when researchers focused on women who did not have the breast cancer genes in their family.
A separate study, conducted by researchers at Nelda C. Stark College of Nursing, a Texas Women’s University in Houston, Texas, involving 1,275 women aged 18 to 76 found that douching was linked to a 34 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Genital use of talcum powder has already been linked to as much as a 76 percent increased risk for ovarian cancer. When used together, genital use of talcum powder and douching upped a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer even more.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly discourages douching, calling it unnecessary and potentially harmful. Vaginas naturally clean themselves. Squirting cleansers inside the vagina as douches do can cause bacterial overgrowth that can lead to yeast infections, or push bacteria up into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
But as many as a quarter of all women ages 15 to 44 continue to douche because they believe that it makes them feel cleaner, reduces odor, and has health benefits.
Douches are sold online and over-the-counter at retail stores across the country under brand names such as Summer’s Eve, Massengill, and FDS.