The ovaries — a pair of organs in the female reproductive system that produces eggs and female hormones — can develop cystic or tumorous growths. Usually, these are noncancerous and will remain in or on the ovaries. In some cases, however, ovarian tumors are cancerous. Some of such tumors cause irregular vaginal bleeding or missed periods, though it’s uncommon for a missed period to be the only symptom.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between ovarian cancer and missed periods.
What is a missed period?
A woman has missed her period if she skips an entire menstrual cycle. Most cycles are between 21 and 35 days long. Cycle lengths will not vary much from month to month, and it’s normal for a period to be a few days late or early from time to time. But for some women, menstrual cycles are irregular and vary widely from month to month.
It’s best to keep track of your cycle to help you understand your body’s rhythm. You can do this using the best period tracker apps or by marking a calendar.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if your period hasn’t arrived after 40 days, especially if you usually have regular cycles.
Do missed periods increase your risk for ovarian cancer?
For most women, a missed period is not a cause for concern. Pregnancy, strenuous exercise, low body fat, rapid weight gain, hormonal imbalances, and even stress can cause menstrual irregularities.
In rare cases, an irregular period is a sign of a serious health issue. For example, it may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. A 2016 study backs the claim, having found that women with a history of irregular periods were twice as prone to developing ovarian cancer. This risk increases as a woman gets older.
Keep in mind that irregular or missed periods are not the strongest indicators or most common symptoms of ovarian cancer. There are other more common symptoms.
What are the other symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Many women will not experience symptoms during the early stages of ovarian cancer. When symptoms do present themselves, they may be vague and mild, often signaling other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. Delays in diagnosis and treatments are often the result.
Aside from a missed period, consult your doctor or gynecologist if these symptoms occur more than 12 times every month:
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Chronic fatigue
- Difficulty eating
- Feeling full fast when you eat
- Pain during intercourse
- Upset stomach
- Urinary changes, such as the need to go frequently
- Weight loss
If you have ovarian cancer, early diagnosis is key to improving your prognosis. Ensure not to ignore or brush away these symptoms, most especially if they persist.
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?
Some factors contribute to the development of ovarian cancer. Therefore, it’s important to have a good understanding of your risk factors. This knowledge can pave the way for early detection and treatment.
Apart from menstrual irregularities, the common risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
- Age. About half of women with ovarian cancer are 63 years old or older, suggesting that older women have a higher chance of developing the disease.
- Weight. Women who are extremely overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Obesity is medically defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.
- Race. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that white women are more likely to have ovarian cancer compared with women of color. However, similar to colon cancer disparity in African Americans, inequities in healthcare might be a factor in this data.
- Family history. About 25 percent of ovarian cancer cases are associated with genetics or mutations in specific genes. In particular, those with the BRCA1 mutation have a 35 to 70 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime.
- No birth control. The pill can reduce your risk of ovarian cancer. The longer you’ve been on birth control pills, the lower your risk, which continues even long after you stop taking oral contraceptives. It takes between 3 to 6 months of consecutive use before the pill’s benefits begin working.
- Fertility drugs. Taking fertility medication may raise a woman’s risk for ovarian tumors. Although further studies are necessary to fully understand the claim, initial research found that the risk is especially high for those who don’t get pregnant after taking these fertility drugs. Moreover, women who struggle with infertility may have an increased risk for ovarian cancer development.
- Hormones. The American Cancer Society (ACS) revealed that estrogen therapy typically used after menopause may raise ovarian cancer risks.
- Menstrual pain. A 2014 study found a link between menstrual pain and an increased risk of epithelial ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history. Those who have their first full-term pregnancy at age 35 or older or have never had children have a higher risk for ovarian cancer. The risk is lower among women who become pregnant before the age of 26. The risk decreases with each full-term pregnancy and with breastfeeding.
Getting checked regularly leads to better outcomes
As mentioned earlier, early diagnosis leads to a positive outlook for ovarian cancer. As much as 94 percent of women who receive treatment for ovarian cancer in the early stages live longer than 5 years after becoming diagnosed, according to the ACS. However, only about 20 percent of all ovarian cancer cases are detected at an early stage. The reason behind this low may be because most of the symptoms are nonspecific, and therefore, often ignored or attributed to a different cause.
During your doctor’s appointment, your provider may perform a pelvic exam and a Pap smear to identify a variety of issues. They may also conduct an exam to feel your ovaries for size, shape, and overall consistency.
Even though preventive tests such as pelvic exams and Pap smears can help guide a doctor toward making a diagnosis, a surgical approach or biopsy is often necessary to confirm whether you have ovarian cancer.
The Bottom Line
Many women don’t notice or experience symptoms until their ovarian cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. Tracking your menstrual cycle, knowing what symptoms to look out for, and seeking medical help when something is amiss can help with early detection and treatment.
If ovarian cancer is present, choose New Hope Unlimited as your cancer treatment provider. We focus on optimizing treatment efficacy, recovery, and total remission in cancer patients. Contact us now at 480-757-6573 to begin your journey toward a cancer-free life.