Abnormal bleeding is one of many symptoms of ovarian cancer, but bleeding can also be caused by other conditions and factors. If you are experiencing abnormal bleeding along with any other symptoms of ovarian cancer, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor.
Abnormal bleeding happens when you have vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you or your menstrual cycle (your period). In a typical cycle, bleeding lasts for around five days every three to five weeks.
In many cases, abnormal bleeding occurs in people who are past menopause and no longer have periods. In people who do have periods, abnormal bleeding may be heavier than normal or become irregular in its timing.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding can happen occasionally and is not always caused by a serious condition. The Cleveland Clinic estimates that around 10 percent to 35 percent of women around the world experience abnormal bleeding. This estimate may be low, however, because symptoms are not always reported.
Abnormal bleeding is more likely with certain types of ovarian cancer. Bleeding as a symptom of ovarian cancer is most common in people with stromal cell ovarian tumors, which make up only 1 percent of all ovarian cancers. This is because the tumors may produce estrogen or other hormones that cause bleeding. In people who have already gone through menopause, the bleeding will appear similar to a period. In people still having menstrual cycles, the bleeding may be very irregular.
Epithelial and germ cell ovarian cancers do not have the same set of symptoms as stromal cell ovarian tumors. These cancers typically do not have any symptoms until the cancer has spread to other organs near the ovaries.
Abnormal bleeding can be caused by a number of triggers or conditions. These include:
Other potential causes include birth control, hormonal changes around menopause, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Hormonal changes can cause abnormal bleeding. Hormonal birth control options change your menstrual cycle and may cause irregular bleeding outside of your normal period. If you have an IUD, you may have heavier periods or spotting.
People who are in menopause, especially the transition period before menopause called perimenopause, also have changing hormone levels that can cause abnormal vaginal bleeding.
In some people, menopause can cause the lining of the uterus (known as the endometrium) to thicken. Endometrial thickening can lead to bleeding.
Any bleeding during menopause, even light spotting, is considered abnormal. You should speak to your doctor about this symptom and any other symptoms you may have.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that causes tiny, fluid-filled sacs called cysts to form in the ovaries. PCOS causes the ovaries to make too many androgens, or male sex hormones. This hormone imbalance can make your periods come at different times instead of on a regular schedule. In some cases, people with PCOS do not have periods for an extended amount of time.
The American Cancer Society notes that many ovarian cancer symptoms can be — and often are — caused by other benign conditions. Symptoms could point to something more serious if they are persistent and represent a change from normal. If you are experiencing symptoms that have become worse over the course of six to 12 months, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor.
For those in menopause, any abnormal bleeding should be checked out by your doctor. Bleeding after menopause could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as uterine cancer.
Abnormal bleeding is just one of many ovarian cancer symptoms, which can overlap with symptoms of other diseases. Other ovarian cancer symptoms include:
If you begin to have any abnormal bleeding or other symptoms of ovarian cancer, tell your doctor. While it’s unlikely to experience symptoms in the early stages of ovarian cancer, ovarian cancer that is caught early can be treated much more easily. It also has a better prognosis than ovarian cancer diagnosed at a later stage.
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