A person may miss a period for a number of common reasons. Ovarian cancer is a rare cause of a missed period.
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
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.
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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:
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.
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.
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.
Missing a period may be a symptom of ovarian cancer, but it is not the most common. According to the
- pelvic or belly pain
- the need to urinate frequently
- a person to eat less or feel full quickly
Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has ovarian cancer. There is often a less serious cause.
If the symptoms result from ovarian cancer, they will occur often and feel severe.
If these symptoms occur regularly, see a doctor. This way, if there is a problem, the doctor can diagnose and treat it quickly.
Beyond changes in periods, other less common symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
Factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing ovarian cancer
- having children after the age of 35 years
- never carrying a pregnancy to term
- being overweight or obese
- having a family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer
- using hormone therapy following menopause
- having a family cancer syndrome
- using fertility treatment, such as in vitro fertilization
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.
Doctors may recommend screening for people with an increased risk.
Screening may involve one or both of the following tests:
- a transvaginal ultrasound, or TVUS
- a cancer antigen, or CA-125, blood test
The CA-125 blood test looks for a protein present on ovarian cancer cells.
A 2015 study found that interpreting the results of a CA-125 blood test using a risk of ovarian cancer algorithm may help doctors diagnose a higher percentage of people with ovarian cancer. The researchers compared the algorithm with the results of the blood test alone.
At present, there is no recommended screening test for people who have no symptoms and no increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Receiving a diagnosis and treatment early may improve a person’s outlook.
Missed periods are usually not a sign of a serious condition, but they can indicate:
- low body weight
- excessive exercise
- 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.