Getting the Best Care

When to See a Gynecologic Oncologist

Graphic with photo. Photo: A doctor and patient stand together in a doctor's office. Both are smiling, and the doctor has his hand around the patient's shoulder. Patient wears a hat and a sweatshirt with teal heart and the word "Hope." The graphic below reads: Locate gynecologic oncologists, specialists & treatment centers in your area. A yellow button reads: Find a Doctor.

It is important to see a gynecologic oncologist as soon as ovarian cancer, or any gynecologic cancer, is suspected. A gynecologic oncologist should always perform a gynecologic cancer patient’s surgery, because many studies conducted over the past decade have shown that an ovarian cancer patient’s chance of survival is significantly improved when surgery is performed by gynecologic oncologist. Some studies show survival rates as much as 50 percent greater, compared to women whose surgeries were done by surgeons less experienced in the techniques used to treat ovarian cancer. Patients with all types of gynecologic cancer see improved outcomes when their treatment is guided by a gynecologic oncologist.

View a list of NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers, recognized for meeting top standards in research, treatment, prevention and education.

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What is a Gynecologic Oncologist?

A gynecologic oncologist is a specialist in treating patients with reproductive tract cancers. Learn more about gynecologic oncologists, and why it’s important to consult with a gynecologic oncologist right away if your doctor suspects you may have ovarian cancer.

Find a gynecologic oncologist in your area

Your Medical Team

While finding a gynecologic oncologist is crucial, that person is not the only one looking out for your health care and well being. You will have an oncology team supporting you in all facets of care — from physical to emotional, to perhaps even spiritual. Learn more about who makes up your treatment team.

What is a gynecologic oncologist?

A gynecologic oncologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating patients with reproductive organ cancers, including cancer of the ovaries, cervix, fallopian tubes, peritoneum, endometrium, vagina, vulva, and uterus. Gynecologic oncologists are trained both in surgery and in guiding treatment, making them unique in the oncology field, and a critical member of your medical team. Learn more about gynecologic oncologists.

What is the difference between an attending doctor and a fellow?

An attending physician is able to make final decisions about treatment plan and care, while a fellow is a physician who is undergoing sub-specialty training. Fellows have completed residency and medical school.

What is a nurse practitioner?

Nurse Practitioners are registered nurses who complete a masters or doctoral degree program and undergo clinical training, and can work alone or in collaboration with other healthcare professionals to provide a full range of primary, acute and specialty health care services.

What does a Registered Nurse do?

Registered Nurses (RNs) coordinate and provide patient care. They also help educate the public about health issues. They cannot prescribe treatments, make a diagnosis, or order tests the way that a nurse practitioner can.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant (PA) can diagnose and treat patients in much the same way that a Nurse Practitioner can. PAs complete graduate-level medical training and receive accreditation and certification. PAs often collaborate with physicians. A PA often approaches care through a physician model, with a focus on disease and the biology of treatment, diagnosis and care. A Nurse Practitioner follows the nursing model, looking at overall patient health and care.

How can a Patient Navigator help?

Also called a Patient Advocate, a Patient Navigator can help guide you through the many facets of the healthcare experience – from communication with their healthcare provider, to setting up appointments, to dealing with insurance. They can also help connect you to social, financial and legal support.

What does an Oncology Social Worker do?

Oncology social workers are licensed professional who can help you manage the emotional and practical challenges of a cancer diagnosis. While others on your medical team focus on treating the cancer itself, an oncology social worker will be an invaluable resource for finding resources, services and support, as well as individual counseling that can help you cope with the feelings that accompany diagnosis, treatment and more.

How can a registered dietician help?

Your doctor may recommend the services of a Dietitian, who can support your health by providing nutrition and dietary advice. Dietitians are licensed nutritionists who can help you manage the disease and side effects of treatment by recommending a certain diet or supplements.

What is a Palliative Care Team?

Palliative Care does not necessarily mean end of life. It is simply care that helps relieve pain, improve quality of life, and can address emotional and/or spiritual concerns of both the patient and the family. The team can be made up of several different professionals who work with the patient, family and medical team to provide a range of support, from medical to social to practical.

How can clergy help with cancer treatment?

An ovarian or other gynecologic cancer diagnosis affects more than one’s physical health. It impacts the family and can raise questions of a spiritual nature as well. Clergy are trained to work with individuals and families to offer emotional support and spiritual guidance, and many patients and loved ones find comfort in speaking with their pastor, rabbi, imam or other religious professional.

Setting Goals of Care

Once you understand what your treatment options are, it may be a good idea to include family members in a meeting with your healthcare team to discuss goals of care. Aside from it being helpful to have an extra set of ears, it can also be helpful for everyone to be on the same page and be able to ask questions. Topics to discuss may include:

  • Quality of life versus quantity
  • Pain tolerance
  • Managing side effects of treatment
  • Understanding prognosis
  • Dealing with anxiety – for patient and loved ones
  • What kind of support is needed or helpful, and how to get that support