Tampons; when we’re not grumbling about having to pay GST on them, we’re wondering how the hell we can own so many and yet never find them in the exact moment they’re required.
Yet maybe we should cut our little cotton companions some slack, because new research suggests tampons have more uses than we realise — and one of them is potentially life-saving.
And no, it’s not the old ‘stick a tampon in your nostril to stem a nosebleed’ trick.
According to a new Mayo Clinic study, titled Detection of endometrial cancer via molecular analysis of DNA collected with vaginal tampons, tampons have the ability to pick up on DNA changes that can signal endometrial cancer, which affects the uterus and is currently lacking a routine screening method.
A group of 66 women were recruited for the study, all of whom were planning to undergo a hysterectomy either due to to the presence of endometrial cancer, or for benign reasons. Each woman inserted a tampon, which were then removed and analysed by the Mayo Clinic researchers. (Post continues after gallery.)
The vaginal secretions on the tampons used by women who had already been diagnosed with uterus cancer were more likely to show up molecular signs of cancer.
The study authors also noted this method was just as accurate as the existing test for this type of cancer, in which cells are scraped from the uterus for analysis. It makes putting a tampon in seem quite pleasant by comparison, really.
As with any breakthrough, more testing is required — and it's currently underway — to firm up these conclusions. However, the researchers are hoping their findings will ultimately lead to a DIY tampon test for uterus cancer.
If that's not enough to impress you, research has revealed yet another unexpected use for tampons that has nothing at all to do with your body. It seems they can also detect pollution in sewage, because they absorb optical brighteners — these are brightenening additives used in laundry detergents, toothpastes and cleaning products.
Tampons have this ability because the cotton used to produce them doesn't contain these optical brighteners, so they can pick them up quickly. After three days suspended in UK sewers, a number of the tampons used in the study glowed under UV light, indicating the presence of the brightening chemicals.
As Scientific American reports:
These chemicals have no natural source, and are a hallmark of wastewater discharge. Scientists use optical brighteners as a quick way to detect the presence of sewage pollution because they glow in ultraviolet light.
So there you go. Next time you're in need of a party trick, grab a tampon from your handbag, dip it in detergent, and hold it up under a UV light. We can't guarantee it'll win you friends, but it'll certainly start a conversation...
Do you have any unusual uses for tampons?