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#HEALTHCHECK: Myths And Facts About Vaginal/Breast Care

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, we are providing factual information on a health misinformation that affects women. #IWD2019

Like every other #hoax, Facebook has been flooded with a broadcast that is claimed to have emanated from Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH):

RATED 18 YEARS AND ABOVE!!! MATURED MINDS ONLY!!! MESSAGE FROM LAGOS STATE UNIVERSITY TEACHING HOSPITAL (LUTH) Please let your wife know about this,This is a serious caution from medical practitioners [LUTH] to all female beings be it infant, baby girl, ladies, mothers; cancer of the vagina is all over pls avoid washing your vagina with soap, wash with only water, there is a particular chemical in soap generally that is very dangerous and possibly causes cancer of the vagina, cases of cancer of the vagina is (sic) all over most of the general hospitals so be aware of this important message. If you have feelings for others kindly pass this message to others that are important to you. ⭕ 56 Girls Died Because Of Using Whisper, Stay free Etc. ⭕ Don’t use One Single Pad 4 d Whole Day B’coz Of The Chemical Used in Ultra Napkins Which Converts Liquid into Gel…it Causes Cancer in Bladder & Uterus. So Plz Try To Use Cotton Made Pads And if You Are Using Ultra Pads, Plz Change it Within 5 Hours, Per Day, At least. If The Time is Prolonged The Blood Becomes Green & The Fungus Formed Gets inside The Uterus & Body. ⭕ Plz don’t feel shy 2 forwd this msg 2 all girls nd even boys so that they can share with their wives N friends, whom they care for. ⭕ AIMS Kick Off “Breast Cancer”. 🔺Nurse Ur Baby. 🔺Wash Ur Bra Daily. 🔺Avoid Black Bra in Summer 🔺Do Not Wear A Bra While Sleeping. 🔺Do Not Wear An Underwire Bra Very Often. 🔺Always Cover Ur Chest Completely By Ur Dupatta Or Scarf When U Are Under The Sun. 🔺Use A Deodorant Not An Anti Antiperspirant. 🔺This is A Public Service Msg From Tata Cancer Hospital. ⭕ Pass it 2 All The Ladies You Care For Without Hesitating. ⭕ Awareness is important ⭕ I Care For You ⭕ Plzz Dont Hesitate To inform Other Females Forward 2 Evry Girl On Ur List.

VERIFICATION:

First of, this post DID NOT come from Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and here’s how we know: Hassan Falola, a senior medical consultant at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Public Relations Unit told Dubawa that – “You see, this is not the first time such broadcast will be going out. It is a spam. People tend to use names of notable organization to send fake news. LUTH is not just the only victim. Sometimes, they quote sources. The message is not from LUTH and we did not record increase of cases of vagina cancer“.

So much information has been included in the above post, and to clarify its claims, a little background information on women’s reproductive organs is necessary.

The ‘Mysterious’ Female Reproductive System

The female reproductive system is made up of the internal and external sex organs which are immature at birth and that function in producing new offsprings.

The internal sex organs are the uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries. These all work together like a well-oiled machine, the ovaries produce the ova (egg cells), the uterus or womb accommodates the embryo (a.ka eggs) which develops into the foetus (a.k.a baby). Asides from the uterus’ function as “house” for the embryo, it also produces vaginal and uterine secretions which help the transit of sperm to the Fallopian tubes from where the eggs are transported to the womb (uterus)

The external sex organs are also known as the genitals and these are the organs of the vulva including the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening. The vagina which we are particularly interested in at this time, is connected to the uterus at the cervix.

Credits: WebMD

So much Ado about the Vagina!

The Vagina is the sexual part that leads to the womb from the outside. It leads immediately from the vulva, which is the external part surrounded by the labia(external skin folds). If a woman were to stand naked in front of you, the vulva and labia is what you would see, they are the most obvious parts of the machine called a woman’s reproductive system.

The vagina performs many functions, it serves to receive the penis during sexual intercourse,  is the passage for the monthly menstrual flow from the womb and the channel through which the baby comes during childbirth (birth canal). A little side note, Women do not pee from the vagina, the opening for this is a little above that of the vagina, it is called the opening to the urethra. Both holes are however housed on the vulva area.

Credits: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

CLAIM 1: Should You Be Worried About Vaginal Cancer?

Vaginal cancer is a disease in which cells that make up the walls of the vagina grow uncontrollably (become malignant). On its own, it is quite a rare disease among cancers of the female reproductive system and that’s one of the reasons why it is FALSE that “cancer of the vagina is all over” as the claim says.

According to medicinenet.com, vagina cancer is not common andis defined “as a disease in which malignant cells form in the vagina and when found in the early stages, it can often be cured.

Most cancer of the vagina is the result of cancer moving (metastasizing) from other parts of the reproductive system like the  cervix, uterus, or bladder to the vagina. In Nigeria, for instance, vaginal cancers make less than 1% of all cancers in females yearly i.e the chance of a person developing vaginal cancer is 1 in 200,000 women.

Claim 2: Is Soap Really Harmful For Your Vagina?

As of now, no substance in commonly used soaps both for laundry and body cleaning has been linked to vaginal cancer. The use of soaps and other agents in washing the female genital tract -an act known as douching, by itself predisposes females to other health conditions such as vaginosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, etc. These conditions are the main reason for which douching is discouraged, a reason unrelated to vaginal cancer.

Dubawa contacted Olasupo Micheal, a Gynaecologist who is a consultant at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, he said there is no evidence that vagina cancer is caused by use of soap nor is there any chemical in soap that can cause it when used in washing the private part. Although, he further stated that it is advisable for women to avoid use of soap while washing their private part, there is no evidence that it may cause vagina cancer “ it can cause other vagina infections such as bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis is the overgrowth of bacterial normally present in the vagina”.

Claim 3: Is Vaginal Cancer “Fast Spreading?”

In medicine, when the term “fast spreading” is used, it is usually in reference to a condition that can be transmitted either from persons to persons or infective agents (which can be other living things, air, water, or soil). Cancer occurence in communities can not be said to be fast spreading since it cannot be transferred from person to person or other infective agents. It can only be high or low which depends on people’s encounter with risk factors such as stated above for vaginal cancer.

Claim 4: Can You Wear A single Pad For An Entire Day?

Chemicals used in sanitary pads do not convert the liquid which is blood to gel. Rather, blood  naturally clots when taken out of the body, this makes menstrual flow on pads appear gel-like after a while on them.

With regard to the duration a pad should be worn, the recommended guidance for changing one’s pad or tampon is indeed every three to five hours or more frequently considering the amount (heaviness) of flow in the day. It is further recommended that every four to eight hours, women should change their pads to prevent a condition known as toxic shock syndrome. Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a serious life-threatening condition that is a severe complication of certain bacterial infections.

According to a study from the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, less than 5,000 cases of menstrual TSS occurs in Nigerian women. This is more frequently linked to the use of super-absorbent variety of tampon that women with heavier periods use. Lastly, the claim that blood turns green and, as a result, “fungus formed gets inside the uterus and body” is a false one.

It is still important that you change pads often to avoid the risk of menstrual TSS but there is no correlation with vaginal cancer.

Claim 5: How Should You Treat Bras?

Bras that are worn daily without washing can accumulate a significant amount of dirt, which becomes a good place for bacteria and other harmful organisms to grow. Therefore, for hygiene and health purposes, it is necessary to wash your bras regularly. How regular, however, depends on several factors.

On the one hand, one expert claims that bras should be washed after every day. “You should wash your bras after every wearing, which is something a lot of women don’t realise”, she said. However, other experts have argued that washing one’s bra every day is not entirely necessary when a bra should actually be washed depending on the level of activity in a day and how much you sweat through the course of wearing that particular bra.

Black bras can be worn in summer, however, as the colour black absorbs more heat, this just means you would feel warmer on a summer day. As clothes are also worn over bras ,the likelihood of  a black bra absorbing heat is less. Hence, it is perfectly acceptable to wear a black bra in summer.

Claim 6: Should You Sleep With Your Bras?

Old wives tales around whether to sleep with a bra on or not are an all-too familiar one. Some of the reasoning behind these tales revolve around the fear of sagging.  There is minimal risk in sleeping with a bra on aside from the discomfort and restlessness in sleep. However, some suggest that sleeping with a bra impedes circulation.

Medical Anthropologist, Sydney Singer said, “when you sleep in your bra, especially if your bra has underwire, your circulation suffers. If the wire is too tight against your skin, your muscles will be constricted, affecting the circulation of the nerves in your arms”. This can also be the reason that claims to not wear underwire bras are propagated. Although if the underwire bra is not tight or ill-fitted, a common problem women experience, then the risk of such effect on blood circulation is reduced.

Claim 7: Is The Sun Terribly Bad For Your Chest?

The claim that you should always cover your chest in sun is a false one.  On the contrary, studies have identified a positive association between exposing the chest to sunlight and reduction in some cancer risk factors. A population-based study found that higher vitamin D exposure to sunlight actually lowered the risk of developing breast cancer in premenopausal women.


Definition of Terms:

  • Cancer: uncontrollable cell growth in any part of the body or cell type of the body, hence different cancers for different body areas and cell types e.g bladder cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer (for the large intestine)
  • DES: diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic (artificial) form of the female oestrogen hormone. It was formerly given to women (peak period 1940 – 1970s) to prevent miscarriage. Its use was discouraged after it was linked to cause vaginal cancer
  • Hysterectomy: surgical removal of the uterus (womb) usually due to a disease condition, etc
  • Benign: having little or no tendency to proceed to a cancerous condition.

Adejumo Kabir is a student journalist at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He is a great researcher with many investigative journalism awards to his name. He loves community journalism and supports all aspects of public enlightenment. He has experience writing well-researched papers for online publications. He was Finalist for Best Student Fact Checker category of the African Fact Checking Awards, South Africa in 2018.

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