There is no scientific evidence to prove that wearing sanitary pads for long periods of time causes cancer.
By Pankhuri Agarwal
A misleading Instagram post claims that the chemical used in ultra napkins, which converts liquid into gel, causes bladder and uterine cancer. The text also promotes the use of cotton pads over ultra pads and asks users to change ultra pads within five hours. There are no conclusive studies to prove any of the mentioned claims.
The post has been liked by 52,877 people and has 439 comments.
We asked experts and looked into some definitive research supporting these claims but didn’t come across any conclusive evidence.
Extensive research studies have revealed the gap between facts and beliefs about menstruation and the associated public health measures, highlighting the lower levels of awareness about proper menstrual hygiene practices in females across India.
An OB-GYN from Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science & Research, Dr. Priya Sindhwani said that prolonged use of a single sanitary pad does not cause cancer.
“Several stories coming up noted that artificial fragrance added to the gel-based absorbent core of the pad causes issues similar to cancer. However, nothing has been proven for sure. There are many myths about the menstrual cycle and hygiene products, especially in adolescent girls,” said Dr. Priya.
We also looked into the bestselling brands of sanitary pads in India - Whisper, Stayfree and Sofy. None of the brands reveal their detailed ingredients/chemicals list, because menstrual pads are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as medical devices, manufacturers are not required to disclose the product ingredients. Hence it could not be determined whether the chemicals are classified as carcinogens or not. However, a study indicates that some brands of sanitary pads may contain higher levels of VOCs and phthalates - potentially harmful chemicals if absorbed in high quantities. The study calls for further investigation into the potential health risk of using such feminine hygiene products.
Sanitary pads have a layered design consisting of a fluid permeable surface (topsheet), an absorbent core, and an impermeable backing with adhesive. They are available in varied sizes, absorption capacity, material type, etc. In ultra pads, the absorbent core contains a chemical that converts liquid into gel, hence retaining large amounts of liquid.
Dr. Shimna Azeez, a medical doctor at Government Medical College in Manjeri, said, “Sanitary napkins are absolutely safe. There’s no research to prove that they cause cancer or are harmful. Claiming that ultra pads cause cancer is more like targeted criticism towards brands - particularly Whisper, as it was the first brand to promote ultra pads and the gel-based technology on a larger scale in India.”
The next part of the text claims that prolonged use of the ultra pads leads to the growth of fungus on the pad when the blood becomes green, and subsequent fungal infection of the uterus and bladder.
This claim is false. “Fresh red blood changes colour with time, becoming dark red, brown and eventually green on the sanitary pad - a natural process, entirely unrelated to fungal infections” explained Dr. Priya.
The change in colour of the blood is triggered by oxidation and bacterial growth on the sanitary pads; this happens for both cotton pads and ultra pads.
It is, therefore, advised to change every sanitary pad within 4-6 hours. “Natural bodily fluids can serve as culture media for the growth of bacteria and fungus on the pad if kept for longer durations. However, the risk of bacterial or fungal infection is unrelated to the type of sanitary pads but entirely dependent on the hygiene practices,” Dr. Shimna added.