No, tampons don't cause cancer — and 6 other tampon myths debunked by experts

·5-min read
A Canadian expert says tampons are extremely safe to use, and any concerns should be discussed with a health care professional. (Photo via Getty Images)
A Canadian expert says tampons are extremely safe to use, and any concerns should be discussed with a health care professional. (Photo via Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

If you've ever heard that tampons can be harmful to your health or that they do more damage than good, you’re not alone.

The internet allows us to have access to so much information nowadays, including misinformation about these period products many women rely on each month.

With plenty of videos and social media posts circling the web, Yahoo Canada asked a Canadian doctor about seven of the most common myths about tampons.

Tampon myth #1: Tampons can cause cancer

A new TikTok video is making headlines because it points out that an ingredient found in tampons, called titanium dioxide, causes cancer. Experts, however, disagree.

Titanium dioxide is a common, white-coloured dye used in cosmetics like sunscreen and food, and it's also used in the string of tampons to appear whiter.

Dr. Catherine Popadiuk says there has been scientific literature that if you inhale a lot of titanium dioxide, it can cause cancer in rats or mice. However, she tells Yahoo Canada that's not the case in humans.

"Titanium dioxide being a mineral can't be absorbed in the vagina, so that really can't get into a woman's body in that manner to cause any problems," Popadiuk, who's the chair of the Canadian Foundation for Women's Health and gynecologic oncologist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, says. "I have never encountered a concern over the decades that tampons have contributed to any form of cancer or problems in that area."

Tampon myth #2: Tampons cause toxic shock syndrome

Keeping a tampon in for a long time has long been associated with toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare and potentially life-threatening illness that's caused by certain types of bacteria entering the bloodstream that produce toxins.

Popadiuk says TSS is not as big of a concern as it once was, adding that the components of tampons have changed over the years.

"They’ve [manufacturers] removed the components that contributed to toxic shock syndrome, and we are seeing less of these problems [TSS] if you do slip up and forget your tampon in there," she explains. "It used to be thought TSS was due to delayed removal of tampons."

Experts agree that a tampon should be changed within eight hours to prevent bacteria build-up. (Photo via Getty Images)
Experts agree that a tampon should be changed within eight hours to prevent bacteria build-up. (Photo via Getty Images)

Tampon myth #3: Tampons should be changed every eight hours

According to Popadiuk, it's a good idea to change a tampon within eight hours because the longer it stays in, the more likely it is to cause irritation.

"The vagina normally has normal bacterial flora, and you don't want to forget something like a tampon because it's just not generally healthy," she advises.

Still, if the removal is delayed past eight hours, Popadiuk says "no significant harm should happen."

Tampon myth #4: You should not sleep with a tampon in

If a tampon can be used during the day, it can be used at night. The only important thing someone should remember is to change it within eight hours, even if it's a high-absorbency tampon.

"It's just good basic hygiene to remember to change them out at least every eight hours, and a sleep cycle would be about eight hours," Popadiuk says.

Experts also say a good habit is to change a tampon before going to be bed, and again upon waking up.

Tampon myth #5: Tampons can get lost inside of you

A tampon can get stuck in the vagina, but that doesn't mean it's lost. In an interview with Tampax, OB-GYN Dr. Melisa Holmes explains there's a dead end at the top of the vagina called the cervix, and there's "no way a tampon can go past that."

That's why experts say it's important to find the right fit and size when choosing a brand.

"Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes, but if someone might have a longer vagina, and that's just how they are, it [a tampon] can get tucked away somewhere and you could potentially see that but, that would be highly unusual," Popadiuk says.

Tampon myth #6: Tampons can affect your virginity

A tampon is a tool for period management and will not affect a person's virginity.

Popadiuk says if someone is a virgin when they start using tampons, the tampon may just be awkward or painful to manage at first.

"There are some conditions where the opening to the vagina may be small and that is an abnormality, and it might prevent menstrual flow from coming out. It's called an imperforate hymen, and that is a problem where that would need to be remedied with a health professional," she explains. "Only in those circumstances would it be awkward to try and work with a tampon."

There are no tampons that are better than others. It simply comes down to personal preference. (Photo via Getty Images)
There are no tampons that are better than others. It simply comes down to personal preference. (Photo via Getty Images)

Tampon myth #7: Organic tampons are better than non-organic tampons

There are no tampons that are better than others when it comes to health.

When choosing the right tampon, it comes down to personal preference. With various sizes, absorbencies and brands to choose from, Popadiuk says the best option varies from person to person, and she suggests people choose one based on their comfortability.

"Virtually anyone who would want to use tampons should find something sufficient with trial and error," the gynecologic oncologist adds.

Share tampon concerns with a doctor

Everyone’s preference will vary when it comes to which tampons are the best fit for their body.

While it’s good to be curious and ask questions about health products, Popadiuk says people should bring up any issues with a doctor rather than believing everything they see online.

"Tampons are extremely safe and helpful products," she says, "and so I just encourage people to review any concerns they have with trusted health care providers."

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