There are a number of reasons why a person may miss a menstrual period. In rare cases, there might be a relationship between a missed period and cancer. Ovarian cancer is a possible but rare cause of a missed period.

Ovarian cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer that affects the ovaries, which are the female reproductive organs that produce and store eggs.

Ovarian cancer can cause a wide range of symptoms, including stomach pain, increased frequency of urination, and loss of appetite.

In some cases, it can also cause changes in a person’s menstrual cycle and may lead to a missed period.

This article explores the relationship between ovarian cancer and missed periods. It also considers some other possible causes of missed periods and explains when to consult a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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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 accounts for about 1% of all new cancer cases in the United States, where females have a 1 in 78 risk of getting this disease during their lifetime.

Factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing ovarian cancer include:

Understanding the symptoms of ovarian cancer can help a person get an early diagnosis and improve their outlook.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • bloating
  • stomach pain
  • feeling full quickly
  • loss of appetite
  • increased frequency of urination
  • fatigue
  • upset stomach
  • constipation
  • changes in menstruation, including irregular periods or heavy bleeding
  • unintentional weight loss
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • back pain

Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has ovarian cancer. There is often a less serious cause.

It is also important to note that early-stage ovarian cancer may sometimes produce no symptoms.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), ovarian cancer can affect a person’s menstrual periods. A person may experience bleeding that is heavier than usual or otherwise irregular.

If a person has ovarian cancer, missing a period can be an early sign. Other symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as belly pain and frequent urination, may also occur.

Symptoms that result from ovarian cancer will generally occur often and feel severe.

However, there are many more common reasons for a missed period, including stress, changes in hormone levels, or pregnancy.

What counts as a missed period?

Understanding the length of a menstrual cycle can help a person identify a missed period.

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

A person who knows what is typical for them can spot irregular or missed periods.

Irregular periods occur when the time between the start of each period changes frequently. A missed period is when no bleeding happens for an entire menstrual cycle.

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 people with irregular menstrual cycles might have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The researchers found that this risk increased with age.

In fact, those with irregular menstrual cycles were twice as likely to have developed ovarian cancer by the age of 70 years as those 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.

Although a missed period may sometimes indicate ovarian cancer, it is usually due to other factors.

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 1.1% of females in the U.S. will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis at some point in their lifetime.

Irregular menstrual cycles are much more common. In fact, one review estimates that about 22% of females in the U.S. experience significant menstrual cycle irregularities.

Still, if a person experiences other symptoms of ovarian cancer in addition to a missed period, it is best to talk with a doctor to determine the cause and, if necessary, the best course of treatment.

There are many common reasons for a missed period.

These include:

Ovarian cysts are another common cause of missed or irregular periods. These are fluid-filled sacs that form on the ovaries, potentially leading to irregular or abnormal vaginal bleeding.

Although these cysts can be cancerous in some cases, they do not usually cause any symptoms and resolve over time without treatment.

According to the ACS, a person should speak with 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 X-ray or an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan
  • a laparoscopy or colonoscopy, which involves 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 ovarian tissue for analysis in a laboratory
  • blood tests to check overall health and rule out other conditions

Doctors may also recommend screening for people with an increased risk, which may involve a transvaginal ultrasound, a cancer antigen 125 (CA-125) test, or both.

The CA-125 test looks for a protein present in ovarian cancer cells.

An early diagnosis allows a person with ovarian cancer to receive the necessary treatment as soon as possible.

An early diagnosis and prompt treatment generally lead to better outcomes.

In fact, among those who receive their ovarian cancer diagnosis at an early stage, about 94% live longer than 5 years.

If a missed period is due to another condition, working with a doctor as necessary to determine the cause and best course of treatment will likely also improve the outcome.

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 consult a doctor for an evaluation. The outlook for ovarian cancer is usually better when the diagnosis takes place at an early stage.