A missed period or irregular menstrual cycle can sometimes be a symptom of ovarian cancer, but not always. Any change to the normal fluctuation of estrogen levels can cause missed or irregular periods. Besides ovarian cancer, there are many reasons for interruptions of the normal menstrual cycle, including:
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. this year. It can be helpful to understand the wide range of symptoms ovarian cancer can cause, as well as when to be concerned about a missed period.
These symptoms could be caused by many other things from time to time, but symptoms of ovarian cancer are typically severe, frequent, and persistent — not mild or occasional. The American Cancer Society recommends seeking medical treatment if these symptoms occur more than 12 times in a month.
For most women, menstrual cycles follow a regular pattern month to month. Women typically have periods every 21 to 35 days, sometimes occurring a few days late or early. Irregular periods (periods that do not follow a predictable schedule) are common in teens and perimenopausal women, two groups who are at the beginning or end of menstruation. A missed period is skipping a cycle of menstruation or going longer than usual between periods.
The sudden onset of missed periods or irregular periods can indicate a change in your health and may be a cause for concern. Missed periods and irregular periods can have many different causes, but if the cause is not clear, it could be a sign of a more serious condition such as ovarian cancer. Understanding your risk can help you take appropriate action.
Missed periods and irregular menstrual cycles do not cause ovarian cancer, but they can indicate an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer, like other cancers, is caused by genetic mutations in cells. Cancer-causing mutations can be inherited from your parents or acquired by normal aging and exposure to carcinogens (potential cancer-causing chemicals). Having specific variations of normal genes or certain environmental exposures are risk factors for developing ovarian cancer.
Inherited risk factors for ovarian cancer that run in families include:
Environmental risk factors include:
On the other hand, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and hormonal birth control can all reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Hysterectomy and tubal ligation (having your “tubes tied”) can also reduce the risk.
Any missed or irregular periods can be indicators of a serious condition, but they can also have benign (noncancerous) causes. It is a good idea to keep track of your cycles, noting the length of your periods and how often they occur, to watch for changes in menstruation.
Because pregnancy is a common cause of missed periods, getting a pregnancy test at home or at a doctor’s office is a good first move to determine what is causing your missed period.
You should also consider seeking medical care for your missed or irregular periods. Getting a medical opinion when symptoms such as menstrual changes first appear can help catch ovarian cancer or other issues at an early stage. If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer is the cause, they may perform screening tests to look for signs and evaluate your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
People who are at a greater risk of ovarian cancer or who have unexplained symptoms should seek a doctor’s medical advice sooner rather than later, especially if the following apply:
MyOvarianCancerTeam is the social network for people with ovarian cancer and their loved ones. On MyOvarianCancerTeam, members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with ovarian cancer.
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