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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

Menstrual Periods: Clues to Ovarian Cancer

Study Shows Risk of Death From Ovarian Cancer Linked to Overall Number of Ovulatory Cycles
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Those who had their first period before age 12 were 51% more likely to die from ovarian cancer compared to those who had their first period at age 14 or later.

In recent years, the age of first period has declined, Robbins and other say. For instance, Wright State University researchers recently found that girls born in the 1980s had an average age of 12.3 years when they had their first period. The study is published in the American Journal of Human Biology.

Women with the highest number of lifetime ovulatory cycles were 67% more likely to die of ovarian cancer than those in the group with the lowest number of cycles.

The study is published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Other Opinions

The new study ''does suggest that some kind of hormonal factors that are tied into lifetime ovulatory cycles and age at menarche may play into a more aggressive ovarian cancer," says Andrew Li, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

However, the study has several limitations, he tells WebMD. The women in the study may not be representative of a typical ovarian cancer patient, who is often diagnosed in her late 50s or 60s.

In the Robbins study, more than 74% of the women were 50 or younger.

The women in the study had been diagnosed from 1980 to 1982, Li notes, and today's treatments for ovarian cancer are different and improved.

While the study findings primarily point to a need for more research, ''this study would suggest taking oral contraceptive pills [earlier in life] would also improve [women's] survival should they be unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer," Li says.

Both risk factors found to be associated with the higher risk of death from ovarian cancer in the study add up to more lifetime exposure to ovarian hormones, says Mary B. Daly, MD, PhD, director of the Personalized Cancer Risk Assessment Program at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, who also reviewed the study for WebMD.

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