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Can a missed period be a sign of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries, which are female reproductive organs that sit on either side of the uterus, or womb. This type of cancer may develop from various cell types in the ovaries or fallopian tubes. The most common type of ovarian cancer is an epithelial tumor called a serous carcinoma.

Ovarian cancer represents around 3 percent of cancer cases in women. In the United States, a female’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is around 1 in 78.

Understanding the symptoms of ovarian cancer can help a person get an early diagnosis. Missing a period can sometimes indicate ovarian cancer, but there are other more common symptoms.

In this article, we explore the link between ovarian cancer and missed periods. We also cover the symptoms and risk factors for this type of cancer and describe the outlook and when to see a doctor.

Can a missed period be a symptom of ovarian cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), ovarian cancer can affect a person’s menstrual periods. Changes may include bleeding that is heavier than usual or otherwise irregular. Missing a period can be one example.

If a person has ovarian cancer, missing a period can be an early sign. But there are many more common reasons for missing a period. These include:

  • stress
  • low body weight
  • pregnancy
  • excessive exercise
  • hormonal imbalance

What counts as a missed period?

To tell when a period is missed, it is important to understand the length of a menstrual cycle.

Typically, a person’s cycle is between 24 and 38 days. The exact length varies for everyone and may change by a few days each month.

Knowing what is normal for a person can help them spot irregular or missed periods.

Irregular periods occur when the menstrual cycle length varies by more than 7–9 days. A missed period is when no bleeding happens for a whole menstrual cycle.

Does a missed period affect ovarian cancer risk?

Missing a period does not cause ovarian cancer. However, there may be a link between missing periods and an increased risk of developing the disease.

A 2016 study revealed that women with irregular menstrual cycles may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. The researchers found that this risk increased with age.

Women with irregular menstrual cycles were twice as likely to have developed ovarian cancer by age 70 than women with regular menstrual cycles.

Understanding why the risk of developing ovarian cancer may increase for people with irregular periods will require more research, as scientists have yet to find a causal link.

The ACS state that a person should see a doctor if they experience common symptoms of ovarian cancer more than 12 times in a month.

Doctors will typically begin a diagnosis by asking about an individual’s symptoms and medical history. They may then examine the pelvis.

If a doctor suspects ovarian cancer, they may order one or more tests. These can include:

  • imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, MRI, CT scan, or X-ray
  • a laparoscopy or colonoscopy, which involve inserting a thin tube with a camera and light into a person’s body to check for signs of cancer
  • a biopsy, which involves taking a sample of the ovaries and analyzing it
  • blood tests to check overall health and rule out other conditions

If a person has ovarian cancer, an early diagnosis means that they can receive the necessary treatment as soon as possible.

Missed periods are usually not a sign of a serious condition, but they can indicate:

  • low body weight
  • excessive exercise
  • pregnancy
  • stress
  • hormonal imbalance

However, less commonly, missing a period or having irregular periods may indicate ovarian cancer. More common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • pelvic or belly pain
  • eating less
  • feeling full quickly
  • feeling the need to urinate often
  • urinating frequently

If a person has symptoms of ovarian cancer, they should see a doctor for an evaluation. The outlook for ovarian cancer can improve with early diagnosis and detection.

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