Listen to Your Body
- CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour, 63, has been battling ovarian cancer, and after a grueling 18 weeks, she is set to finish her chemotherapy treatment.
- Amanpour announced her diagnosis in June. The world-renowned journalist made it a point to share that she is hyper aware of her body, and sensed something was wrong. She got in to get checked, and sure enough, it was cancer.
- Amanpour’s prognosis looks good due to early detection, which is often difficult with ovarian cancer. A leading expert shares subtle signs to look out for to report to your doctor such as swelling in the pelvic area, a consistent feeling of feeling full and a change in bowel habits.
The world-renowned journalist sat down with Good Morning America veteran Robin Roberts, who is also a cancer survivor, to share her health update.Read More
“It’s now the end of my chemotherapy, tomorrow is my last session,” she announced, acknowledging how Roberts had been through a similar struggle with her breast cancer. Amanpour admitted that it has been “fatiguing [and] tiring, and emotionally wearing.”
Amanpour announced her diagnosis in June. She made it a point to share that she is hyper aware of her body, and sensed something was wrong. She got in to get checked, and sure enough, it was cancer. Amanpour advocated strongly to get to her diagnosis, and wants to help other women do the same as she comes forward again during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
“I want women to understand they must pay attention to their bodies,” she told Roberts. “Whatever feels abnormal to them in terms of what they know to be their body’s normal state, they need to pursue it.”
Ovarian cancer is typically one of the more difficult types of cancer to find early. Amanpour pointed out that ovarian cancer can mimic other common issues like a urinary tract infection, irritable bowel syndrome, and/or bloating. Women are often dismissed for being “hypochondriacs,” she said, and wants to urge women to make themselves heard and not let their concerns be “dismissed nor diminished” by doctors.
“I would not be swayed when I felt a pain that was unusual, and I pursued it until the very end of getting my first ultrasound, which is the benchmark for then having a baseline to know whether you’ve caught it early in time and therefore ‘cure’ it, or not,” she said. “[Ovarian cancer] is very difficult to detect and that’s what I want women to understand.”
After a successful surgery, and what hopefully has been a successful treatment program, things are looking good for Amanpour’s prognosis.
“I felt the humility of not being able to be in control, not feeling that I needed to be in control, but knowing that this is bigger than me, it’s bigger than anyone who has these types of illnesses and to give myself over to the care of the experts and that’s what I did,” she said. “I think that was incredibly important for me to understand.”
Along with being a respected career woman, like many women battling cancer, she is a mother who wants to live a long life of milestones. She has one child, son Darius Rubin, 21, with American journalist James Rubin, to whom she was married for 17 years until 2018.
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Familiarizing Yourself with Subtle Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
As Amanpour shared, ovarian cancer symptoms can be subtle. Learn what signs to look for, and when to report them to your doctor.
“I think what’s really challenging about ovarian cancer is that, while it’s sometimes referred to as silent, I would say it’s more subtle than silent,” Dr. Karen Zempolich, gynecologic oncologist at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, tells SurvivorNet. “Most women have some symptoms. It’s just that they overlap with so many other things.”
Here are some ovarian cancer symptoms to watch for, plus the tests that can lead to a diagnosis.
Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Most warning signs for ovarian cancer relate to pain or discomfort in the abdominal area:
- Feeling full more quickly
- Abdominal discomfort
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Changes in bowel movements
- Swelling in the pelvic area
“There’s some sort of upset stomach feeling or getting full earlier, rather than eating a full meal without the sensation of having a full stomach,” Dr. Zempolich explains.
Bloating or abdominal discomfort are common things we experience after eating unhealthy foods, too much food, or something that may have been left in the fridge too long. Too much sodium can cause bloating, and certain foods can contribute to constipation, but when these symptoms occur consistently, or without any triggers attached to them, that’s when you need to get in to see your doctor.
“Anybody who eats a really spicy meal will have some indigestion, bloating, or maybe changes in their bowel movements,” says Dr. Zempolich. But symptoms that last for two to three weeks and don’t have any obvious cause are worth telling your doctor about and “thinking about whether or not there is something going on in the abdomen or pelvis related to the ovaries.”
Steps to Diagnose Ovarian Cancer
If you’re having continuous pain in the pelvic area, you may not be sure which type of doctor to visit. Dr. Zempolich recommends starting with whichever doctor you see on a regular basis: a primary care physician, nurse practitioner, or your OB/GYN, which many younger women may visit more often than their internist.
After hearing your symptoms, the doctor will start with a pelvic exam. “As part of that exam they’ll feel through the vagina and the rectum for any masses inside the pelvis that might suggest ovarian cancer,” says Dr. Zempolich.
Once a pelvic exam has been completed, your doctor will likely do one or both of the following tests:
- A pelvic ultrasound to look at the ovaries more closely
- A CA-125 blood test, which looks for specific proteins in the blood that may be tumor markers
While these tools are useful in pinpointing the cause of your symptoms, there are no true screening methods when it comes to ovarian cancer. “[These tests] just aren’t specific enough,” says Dr. Zempolich. “They can be normal, and cancer can be present and [your CA 125] can be elevated from things that are not ovarian cancer.”
This is where a crucial part of diagnosing ovarian cancer comes in: you. It’s important to be your own health advocate if you sense something is wrong with your body, so you can get the proper care when you need it. Seek out medical expertise as soon as possible, and if you’re not satisfied with the results of your pelvic exam and subsequent screenings, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
According to the American Cancer Society, only about 20% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. The earlier you make an appointment with a doctor and start asking questions (and more questions, if needed), the quicker you can get the proper care and treatment you may need.