Irregular periods aren’t the most common symptom of ovarian cancer, but they can be a potential sign. Keep in mind that many other things can cause less time between periods.

Ovarian cancers are cancers affecting your ovaries, fallopian tubes, or nearby peritoneum, the layer of tissue that lines your abdominal cavity and its organs. This cancer type is the second most common gynecological cancer in the United States.

Due to how involved your ovaries are in monthly menstruation, it’s natural to feel concerned about ovarian cancer when you notice period irregularities.

While many things in life can affect your menstrual cycle, talk with a gynecologist if you’re having periods that are too close together. Catching ovarian and other gynecological cancers early can help improve your treatment outcomes.

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female” or “men” and “women.” Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Menstrual irregularities, such as your periods being closer together, can be a symptom of ovarian cancer. But these kinds of irregularities aren’t necessarily common symptoms.

A 2020 population cohort study in the United Kingdom noted vaginal bleeding was only reported by 7.7% of women who received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Abdominal discomfort, on the other hand, was reported by almost 40%.

Even as a less common symptom having an irregular cycle may affect your overall risk of developing ovarian cancer.

A 50-year prospective study released in 2016 found women experiencing menstrual irregularities were almost twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer by 70 years of age and were nearly 3 times as likely to develop it by 77 years of age.

What does it mean to have irregular menstrual bleeding?

Irregular periods, also known as abnormal uterine bleeding, are common. As many as a third of biological women will experience period irregularities at some point during their lifetime.

Irregular menstruation is any bleeding that’s not typical for you.

In general, periods occur every 24–38 days and last between 2–7 days. Within that range, each person may have a different “normal.” Your period, for example, may always come around day 29 and last for 4 days. Someone else may get their period every 26 days but it lasts for a full week.

Along with too-frequent periods, other patterns of menstrual irregularities include:

  • bleeding or spotting between your periods
  • heavy period flow
  • bleeding or spotting after sexual activity
  • prolonged periods
  • periods that occur more than 35 days apart
  • periods that are absent for months
  • bleeding after menopause
  • cycle durations that vary widely month to month
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On its own, irregular bleeding is an unlikely symptom of ovarian cancer. In fact, you can develop ovarian cancer and never have an irregular period.

The primary symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • pelvic or abdominal discomfort
  • bloating
  • feeling full early when you’re eating or feeling too full to eat
  • appetite loss
  • urinary urgency or frequency
  • bowel habit changes

You may also experience:

If ovarian cancer has spread to other locations in your body, it’s possible to notice more general cancer symptoms such as sleep disturbances, mood changes, respiratory symptoms, or cognitive impairment.

Many different things cause menstrual cycle changes. Natural hormonal fluctuations, stress, and birth control use are all examples of noncancerous reasons you might have an irregular period.

Unusual bleeding isn’t something to ignore though. Your body’s reproductive system works in a cyclical nature, and changes to what’s typical for you can be an important clue about your health.

Other potential causes for abnormal uterine bleeding include:

Any new period irregularities are worth bringing up with a healthcare professional. Even though some changes are typical, when and how you experience an irregular period can matter.

Noticing spotting after menopause, for example, may hold more significance than the same bleeding when you’re in your adolescence or in perimenopause.

If you’re pregnant, report any bleeding to a doctor or other healthcare professional as soon as possible.

If you’re particularly concerned about ovarian cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend talking with a doctor if you’ve been experiencing nonmenstrual symptoms, like pelvic discomfort, for 2 weeks or longer.

Call 911 or local emergency services if you experience the sudden onset of irregular vaginal bleeding, even if you aren’t pregnant. This is especially important if you:

  • fill a pad or tampon every hour for more than 2 hours in a row
  • experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness

Periods too close together are one type of irregular uterine bleeding. While there are many times in life when menstrual changes like these are natural, they can also be signs of ovarian cancer or other serious conditions.

Speaking with a gynecologist when you notice period irregularities can help determine the underlying causes early, allowing you to get the treatment you need as soon as possible.