Gynecologic Oncologist

If you have ovarian cancer or if your doctors suspect you have it, you should be referred immediately to a Gynecologic Oncologist. A regular Gynecologist or Medical Oncologist will not do – not for ovarian cancer.

A Gynecologic Oncologist is a specialist in treating women’s reproductive cancers. Women with ovarian cancer are strongly encouraged to seek care from one of these specialists.

Multiple studies have shown that an ovarian cancer patient’s chance of survival is significantly improved when her surgery is performed by a Gynecologic Oncologist. One analysis of multiple studies found that women whose surgeries were performed by gynecologic oncologists had a median survival time that was 50 percent greater than women whose surgeries were done by general gynecologists or other surgeons.

 To locate a Gynecologic Oncologist near you, visit the Foundation for Women’s Cancer website.

Understanding treatment options are critical for an ovarian cancer patient’s survival. All treatment decisions should be made by a patient in consultation with her medical professional.

Standard Treatment

Standard treatment for ovarian cancer consists of debulking surgery followed by six rounds of chemotherapy. One recent study found that just 37 percent of women receive this standard treatment, despite evidence showing that it is the most effective.

Surgery is done to remove as much of any tumors as possible. Ovarian cancer often spreads throughout the abdominal cavity. It can leave seeds or rice-sized implants of tumor on any abdominal organ. The goal of surgery is to remove all cancer that is evident. This is called debulking. Another goal is to do staging. Staging is important for determining chemotherapy treatments and for predicting possible patient outcomes.

The type of surgery you will have will depend on how advanced your ovarian cancer is at the time it is detected. It could be as simple as removing an ovary through minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery or it could be quite radical. For most ovarian cancer patients, surgery usually involves removing the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and any other tumor sites.

Women whose surgery was performed by a gynecologic oncologist have better outcomes than patients whose surgeons were not oncologists, including improved survival and longer disease-free intervals.

Patients undergo chemotherapy in an effort to kill any cancer cells that remain in the body after surgery. Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to treat cancer. Most often, chemo is a systemic treatment − the drugs are given in a way that lets them enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body. Most of the time, this is done by injection into a vein (IV). Many women opt for a port. A port is implanted under the skin to administer chemotherapy rather than using an IV. One of the biggest advantages to using a port is that the port can be accessed repeatedly without damaging the vein. This is a decision that will be made between you and your doctor.

 Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy
This therapy places the medicine directly into the peritoneal area through a surgically implanted port and catheter. While intraperitoneal (IP) therapy has been in use since the 1950s, new advances have combined it with intravenous (IV) therapy, using chemotherapy agents that work best for treating ovarian cancer. The National Cancer Institute recommends that, for select ovarian cancer patients, chemotherapy be given by both IV and IP. This combination has been found to increase survival for women with advanced stage ovarian cancer.

Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy
Some patients may receive chemotherapy before having surgery to remove their tumors. This is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Other Drugs

Other drugs, including angiogenesis inhibitors and targeted therapies, may be recommended either in conjunction with chemotherapy or as single agents. These drugs may have very different side-effects than chemotherapies and may be useful only for specific populations.

Radiation Therapy or Radiotherapeutic Procedures
These procedures may be used to kill cancer cells that remain in the pelvic area.

Clinical Trials
Researchers carry out ovarian cancer clinical trials to find ways of improving medical care and treatment for women with this disease. A woman is eligible to participate in a clinical trial at any point in her experience with ovarian cancer: before, during or after treatment. Many women think of clinical trials as an option only after other treatments have failed. In reality, many equally important trials are available for women earlier in their fight against ovarian cancer. For more information on ovarian cancer clinical trials, contact the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance at 1-800-535-1682.