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Douching linked to cervical cancer.

Women who douche more than once a week may increase their risk of cervical cancer as much as fourfold compared with women who douche less often, according to a new epidemiologic study. But douching less than once a month carries no more risk than never douching, the researchers found.

"Douching more than once a week is certainly not recommended," concludes study coauthor John W. Gardner of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. "But I don't know if there is any medical reason to douche regularly anyway."

Gardner and his colleagues compared the past douching habits of 266 Utah women who had cervical cancer and 408 healthy women selected randomly from the Utah population. They conducted the study in Utah because more than two-thirds of the state's residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Mormon beliefs proscribe extramarital sex and cigarette smoking, two known risk factors for cervical cancer.

In populations with multiple risk factors, the effect of frequent douching would probably appear less striking, Gardner notes. Among the 28 percent of the study participants who reported having had more than six sexual partners in their lifetime, those who douched frequently showed only double the cervical cancer risk of those who did not, he says.

Gardner speculates that frequent douching might set the stage for cervical cancer by removing normal vaginal secretions and killing helpful bacteria. The type of douching preparation made little difference in cancer risk among the women studied, although those who douched with vinegar and water had slightly higher cancer rates than those who used commercial preparations, plain water or a mixture of water and baking soda. Only eight women reported douching with household cleaning solutions, such as Lysol and Pine-Sol, which were widely used in the 1940s and '50s until scientists strongly linked them with cervical cancer. Four of those women had cervical cancer, the researchers report in the Feb. 15 American Journal of Epidemiology.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 16, 1991
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