Tampons, by design, are simple and forgettable.
But, the same cotton and rayon products you're used to throwing in the bathroom garbage might be more valuable than previously thought: They could act as early indicators of cancer.
A new body of research from the Mayo Clinic shows the DNA from the vaginal secretions picked up by tampon fibers can be tested for early signs of cancer of the endometrium, or inner lining of the uterus, reports Smithsonian.com.
It's also the most common cancer to affect the reproductive systems of women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
A Mayo Clinic press release explains women often don't see a doctor until they start experiencing abnormal bleeding, at which point the cancer has already spread.
Developing upon a small 2004 study noting tampons could collect cancerous cells, the team conducted more in-depth research.
The researchers had 66 women -- all about to have hysterectomies -- insert and remove tampons. Each subject also underwent the more invasive "endometrial brushing," in which cells are scraped from the uterus using a wire brush.
The 38 tampons from women already known to have endometrial cancer showed high methylation in nine of the 12 genes tested, and the results matched what the "endometrial brushing" yielded as well.
Those methyl groups are a sign genetic "checks and balances" meant to be suppressing cancer have been overridden, allowing tumors to develop.
In a statement, Jamie Bakkum-Gamez, lead researcher, said,
Unfortunately, there is no equivalent to a Pap smear or a mammogram for endometrial cancer... Our goal is to use our findings to develop a tool for the early detection of endometrial cancer that women could use in the comfort of their own homes.
The team is currently pursuing clinical trials, hoping to identify exactly which methylated genes indicate developing cancer.
Until then, don't be so quick to disregard those tampons in your medicine cabinet; after all, they're helping researchers protect women from cancer.