There’s been some recent back and forth in the world of sexual health about a publication by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) on nitrosamines in latex condoms.
The Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Institute in Stuttgart also said it had found the carcinogen N-Nitrosamine in 29 of 32 types of condoms it tested in simulated conditions.
The condoms, which were kept in a solution with artificial sweat, exuded huge amounts of cancer-causing N-Nitrosamine from its rubber coating. Researchers measured amounts of N-Nitrosamine, that were way above the prescribed limits for other rubber products such as baby pacifiers.
“N-Nitrosamine is one of the most carcinogenic substances,” the study’s authors said. “There is a pressing need for manufacturers to tackle this problem.”
The study said that the carcinogen is thought to be present in a substance used to improve condom elasticity. When the rubber material comes in contact with human bodily fluids, it can release traces of N-Nitrosamine.
The RHTP report notes that the “use of condoms should not be reduced or undermined because of the presence of nitrosamines in some condoms,” yet its findings have been used to justify some scary claims about potential health risks of some condom(s). So, what’s the real deal?
What are Nitrosamines that are used in making condoms?
Nitrosamines are chemical compounds that form during the production of latex, in some foods, and in tobacco smoke. In terms of everyday exposure to these compounds, there are detectable levels in balloons, gloves, baby bottle nipples, pacifiers, cosmetics, beer, deli meats—and yes, a condom. We know that being exposed to too much of these compounds over time leads to an increased risk for cancer. But should condom users be worried?
Can a Condom cause cervical cancer?
No, a condom does not cause cervical cancer.
Here’s why a Condom is not a cause:
The report looked at the amount of nitrosamine(s) released by a condom instead of how much is absorbed by the skin. And they acknowledge there’s a difference. Other research on nitrosamines shows that skin typically absorbs around 1% per hour of exposure, a really small amount.
The vagina, anus, mouth, and the glans of the penis are mucous membranes, which may mean they absorb more than regular skin, but we don’t know what difference that makes without more research. It’s possible that even all the condom that released detectable levels of nitrosamines aren’t significant sources of the compounds because such a small amount is absorbed.
The RHTP report showed that Durex Extra Sensitive, Lifestyles Skyn, Lifestyles UltralLubePlus, Lifestyles Flavors and Colors, Trojan Bareskin, Sustain, and the FC2 female condom had no detectable nitrosamines in them. RHTP contacted the manufacturers of the condom with the highest levels of nitrosamines and half reported “that they are aware of the issue and taking steps to monitor and reduce the levels of nitrosamines in their products.” So even those brands may soon be nitrosamine-free.
And we probably don’t need to remind savvy Bedsider readers that condom protect us from things that are definitely harmful to our health, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, HIV, and hepatitis.
Now, if you work in a factory were nitrosamine is used…
Research has shown that people working in factories and warehouses with lots of latex around do have a higher exposure to nitrosamines, especially when they work there for decades. As with all other chemical exposures in our environment, it’s all a matter of scale. If you’re worried about chemicals in your environment, check out helpful recommendations about reducing your exposure.
Do Condoms prevent cervical cancer:
Yes. For the first time, scientists have proof that condom offer women impressive protection against the virus that causes cervical cancer.
A three-year study of female college students — all virgins at the start — found that women whose partners always wore a condom during sex were 70 percent less likely to become infected with the human papilloma virus, or HPV, than those whose partners used protection less than 5 percent of the time.
“That’s pretty awesome. There aren’t too many times when you can have an intervention that would offer so much protection,” said Dr. Patricia Kloser, an infectious-disease specialist at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey who was not part of the study.
Condoms have been shown convincingly to prevent pregnancy and AIDS. But conservatives who want to see abstinence taught in schools have long argued that a condom do not protect well against diseases such as HPV, because men can spread the virus to women from sores on their genitals outside the area covered by a condom.
However, the researchers at the University of Washington found that the chances of HPV being spread that way appear to be small.
Human papilloma virus — which can cause cervical cancer, genital warts and vaginal, vulvar, anal and penile cancers — is the most common sexually transmitted disease, infecting about 80 percent of young women within five years of becoming sexually active. An estimated 630 million people worldwide are infected.
The virus is spread during sex from contact with the sores, or lesions, that develop around infected cells.
Often, the virus is killed by the immune system, but in some people HPV can take hold and cause lesions that can turn cancerous years later. Cervical cancer strikes about 10,520 American women and kills about 3,500 each year. Worldwide, about 500,000 women develop cervical cancer and nearly 300,000 die from it every year.
In the HPV study, published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, none of the women who reported that their partners always used a condom developed lesions during the three-year period. Fourteen women whose partners used a condom less regularly got lesions.
Twelve of the 42 women who said their partners always used a condom became infected. Rachel Winer, a researcher in the university’s epidemiology department, said it could be that the couples did not use the condoms correctly or had some sexual contact before putting on a condom.
Recent medical advances might someday render the condom debate moot: Earlier this month, the government approved the first vaccine against HPV, and public health officials are urging that girls be routinely vaccinated before they become sexually active.
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