NY Methodist’s gynecologic oncologists help women fight cancer
Gynecologic oncology is the field of medicine that focuses on the treatment and management of cancers that exclusively impact women. There are roughly 1,000 practicing gynecologic oncologists in the United States, all of whom have received at least three years of post-residency training to specialize in their field.
“All types of gynecologic cancer—which include endometrial, cervical, ovarian, cervical, vaginal, and fallopian tube cancer—have seen considerable advances in available treatments, and working with a gynecologic oncologist improves patients’ chances for a cure or increased length of survival with better quality of life,” said Katherine Economos, M.D., NY Methodist Hospital’s (NYM) director of gynecologic oncology. “Reaping those benefits still requires quick action once the symptoms are recognized, receiving the optimal treatment, and having the necessary follow-up therapy, to give a woman the best chance of eliminating the cancer.”
The three most common gynecologic cancers involve endometrial, cervical and ovarian malignancies, which account for 90 percent of all gynecologic cancer cases. The surgical procedure for each of these conditions usually involves hysterectomy—the complete removal of the uterus—as well as the reproductive organ in which the cancer originated.
Endometrial and cervical cancer have similar onset symptoms, including menstrual irregularity or heavier or longer menses than usual. A “hallmark” symptom that distinguishes cervical cancer is bleeding after intercourse. And for post-menopausal women, any bleeding is a potential warning sign. Ovarian cancer’s symptoms do not mirror those of other gynecologic cancers and this makes the disease more difficult for a woman to recognize. Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include persistent abdominal bloating, feeling full early in a meal, altered urinary habits, fatigue and back pain.
“Irregular bleeding is rarely due to something as serious as cancer, but it can be alarming for any woman, no matter what the cause,” said Dr. Economos, “That is why an endometrial or cervical cancer patient is more likely to visit a doctor, and have her cancer identified, when the disease is early in its course. Ovarian cancer differs from the first two in having no initial symptoms. When symptoms eventually appear, they can indicate that the cancer has already spread.”
With aggressive treatment, there is still a chance of curing advanced ovarian cancer, or adding valuable, quality years to the patient’s life. Even when complete removal of the cancer isn’t technically feasible, a gynecologic oncologist may perform a debulking procedure to remove as much of the tumor and involved surrounding tissue as possible. Debulking surgery, followed by a course of chemotherapy or radiation to kill remaining cancer cells, has been proven to give ovarian cancer patients the best chance of beating the disease.
“Despite the available expertise of gynecologic oncologists, a recent study has shown that far too few women with ovarian cancer are under the care of a gynecologic oncologist, and instead receive treatment from a general surgeon or a gynecologist,” said Sanford M. Lederman, M.D. chairman and program director of NYM’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.“If a woman is confronting any gynecologic cancer, a gynecologic oncologist should be managing her care. She should have the best chance of success in her fight to lead the long, happy life she deserves.”
For a referral to one of NYM’s gynecologic oncologists, call the Hospital’s Institute for Women’s Health at 877.41.WOMAN.
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