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Irregular Menstrual Cycles Could Increase Ovarian Cancer Death Risk

Update Date: Apr 10, 2014 02:41 PM EDT

In a new study, researchers analyzed the relationship between women's menstrual cycles and their risk death from ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer tends to have a relatively high death rate due to the fact that it is often diagnosed too late. The researches found that women who have irregular menses are more than two times more likely to die from ovarian cancer.

"Among reproductive cancers, ovarian cancer is the most common cause of death, because it is usually diagnosed late in the disease process after it has spread," said Barbara A. Cohn, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Child Health and Development Studies at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, CA. "Unfortunately, there is no reliable method for early diagnosis or screening, and symptoms like abdominal pain and bloating often do not come to a woman's attention until the cancer has spread.

For this study, the researchers reviewed medical data on 14,403 women taken from the Child Health and Development Studies. These studies recruited over 15,000 pregnant women between 1959 and 1967 in order to examine the effects that several factors have on women's health during pregnancy.

The sample that Cohn and her team focused on were women who had only one live birth. The team analyzed data on their menstrual cycles, including any irregularities. Irregularities included cycles lasting more than 35 days and anovulation, which is when a menstrual cycle does not release an oocyte indicating that the body did not ovulate. Data collected on anovulation were used to help determine polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

The researchers found that 13 percent of the women had irregular menstrual cycles starting at around 26-years-old. 64 of these women had died from ovarian cancer at around 69-years-old. The researchers calculated that women with irregular menses had a 2.4-fold increased risk of death caused by ovarian cancer.

"It is notable that the 2.4-fold increase in risk of ovarian cancer death we observed for women with irregular/infrequent cycles in this study is close to the threefold increase in risk observed for women with a family history of ovarian cancer in a first-degree relative," Cohn said according to Medical Xpress. "Our study finding could lead to better understanding of the 90 percent of ovarian cancers that occur in women with no family history of ovarian cancer and with no known high-risk inherited mutations."

The study's findings were presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2014.

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