What Does a Gynecologic Oncologist Do?
A gynecologic oncologist is a physician who specializes in treating women with reproductive tract cancers. Gynecologic oncologists are initially trained as obstetrician/gynecologists and then undergo three to possibly more than five years of specialized education in all the effective forms of treatment for gynecologic cancers (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and experimental treatments) as well as the biology and pathology of gynecologic cancers.
Why Am I Being Referred to a Gynecologic Oncologist?
If you were referred to a gynecologic oncologist, it is most likely because your doctor suspects you may have ovarian cancer or another gynecologic cancer, and wants you to be seen by a specialist who can provide the very best care. Your gynecologic oncologist will work with you to develop a treatment plan and help you understand the steps ahead.
Your doctor will determine when to refer you to gynecologic oncology based on their assessment of your situation, but don’t be afraid to speak up if you have questions about whether you should be referred earlier. It is crucial that patients and their primary care physicians, as well as ob-gyns, understand that when to see a gynecologic oncologist is before surgery takes place, which is often before a diagnosis of cancer is confirmed. The importance of being treated by a gynecologic oncologist for your initial debulking surgery cannot be stressed enough. According to numerous medical studies, there are significant survival advantages for women who are managed, operated on and treated by a gynecologic oncologist.
- Gynecologic oncologists are five times more likely to completely remove ovarian tumors during surgery.
- Eighty percent of ovarian cancer patients receive inadequate surgical debulking–the removal of tumor tissue during surgery–and staging when done by non-gynecologic oncology surgeons.
- Survival rate and outcomes for women with ovarian cancer vastly improve with gynecologic oncologists.
- For those women with ovarian cancer who live in rural areas that may not have a gynecologic oncologist at a local hospital, her care can be supervised by a gynecologic oncologist at a major medical center who has relationships with medical oncologists in surrounding areas to provide the chemotherapy treatment.
First Appointment with Gynecologic Oncologist: What to Expect
An appointment with a gynecologic oncologist will be similar to other doctor’s appointments you may have had, but there are a few additional things to prepare before your first visit. Your gynecologic oncologist will need as much of your medical information and history as possible, to guide you through your most successful treatment plan. Your doctor’s office should tell you what you need to bring with you, or if there’s anything you need to send to your doctor in advance. If your doctor doesn’t bring it up, you can ask. At your first consultation, you may need to bring:
- Medical records, including radiology (X-ray, CT scan, ultrasound, MRI, PET scan) and pathology (biopsy) reports
- CD-ROM of pictures from imaging, if possible
- Blood test results
- Notes and records from other health care providers
- Medical and surgical history, including gynecologic and obstetric history
- List of all current medications and supplements
- Family medical history, including a list of family members who have had cancer
- List of doctors you are currently seeing
- Health insurance information
- Notebook with questions to ask your gynecologic oncologist
Your first gynecologic oncologist appointment may take a few hours, so try to allow for enough time that you won’t feel rushed. Many people also find it helpful to bring a friend or family member into the appointment, both for emotional support and to help take notes and remind you of questions you want to ask. There’s a lot to cover—in addition to a thorough examination of your medical records, your doctor will also take time to listen to your goals and needs, and talk through any anxiety you may have about your diagnosis and treatment. They may also perform a physical exam.
After making an assessment based on all of the above, your gynecologic oncologist will talk about available treatment options, including how effective they tend to be for your cancer type, and typical side effects. Together you will determine your treatment plan, including details of when and where your first treatment will take place, course of treatment going forward, and next steps.
You should come away from your first appointment with a better understanding of the route ahead. If you think of questions after your appointment is over, don’t hesitate to reach back out. Your gynecologic oncologist is there to help you.
What Questions Should You Ask a Gynecologic Oncologist?
Questions to ask your gynecologic oncologist early in treatment:
- What is the stage of my disease? Has the cancer spread from the ovaries? If so, to where?
- What are my treatment choices? Do you recommend intraperitoneal chemotherapy for me? Why or why not?
- Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
- Will I need more than one kind of treatment?
- What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
- What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? What can we do to control side effects? Will they go away after treatment ends?
- What can I do to prepare for treatment?
- How long will I need to stay in the hospital? Can I get chemotherapy at my local hospital since it is too far to drive to a major medical center?
- What is the treatment likely to cost? Will my insurance cover the cost?
- How will treatment affect my normal activities?
- Will treatment cause me to go through early menopause?
- Will I be able to get pregnant and have children after treatment?
- How often should I have checkups after treatment?
Questions to ask your gynecologic oncologist about surgery:
- What kind of surgery do you recommend for me? Will lymph nodes and other tissues be removed? Why?
- How soon will l know the results of the pathology report? Who will explain them to me?
- How will I feel after surgery?
- If I have pain, how will it be controlled?
- How long will I be in the hospital?
- What are some of the possible long-term effects of the surgery?
- How might the surgery affect my sex life?
- How much will the surgery cost? Will my health insurance cover it?