If you’ve been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, you may wonder about your treatment options and what’s right for you. Learn more about how gynecologic cancers are treated, who may be part of your care team, questions to ask your doctor and whether a clinical trial may be right for you.
What is gynecologic cancer?
Gynecologic cancer is an umbrella term for cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, primary peritoneal cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer.
How are gynecologic cancers treated?
Gynecologic cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer, if it has spread, and what your goals and wishes are. In general, treatment options can include:
- Chemotherapy: Medications given through an IV or pill that shrink or kill cancer cells
- Radiation: High-energy rays used to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors
- Surgery: An operation to remove the cancerous tissue and potentially surrounding tissue and lymph nodes
- Targeted Therapy: Treatment that identifies and attacks specific cancer cells without harming healthy, normal cells
- Immunotherapy: Treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer
- Hormone Therapy: Hormones or hormone-blocking drugs that treat or slow the growth of certain kinds of tumors
Questions to ask about gynecologic cancer treatment
When discussing your treatment options, it can be helpful to ask your medical team questions, such as:
- What are my treatment options?
- Which option(s) do you recommend for me?
- What are the expected benefits of this type of treatment?
- What are the potential side effects?
- What should I expect at my appointments?
- How soon will I know my results?
- What is this treatment likely to cost?
- Will my insurance cover this treatment?
- Will this treatment affect my daily activities?
- What kind of support will I need from family and friends?
- What can we do to minimize the side effects?
- What can I do to prepare for treatment?
- Will I need to stay in the hospital during or after treatment? If so, for how long?
- How long will it take for me to recover?
- Will this treatment affect my fertility or sexuality?
- How often will I need checkups?
- Is a clinical trial right for me?
- What are the long-term side effects of treatment and how can I manage them?
- What support services are available to me? (Such as meeting with a social worker, counselor or genetic counselor)
Who is part of the gynecologic cancer treatment team?
If you’ve been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, you’ll likely be referred to a gynecologic oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating these cancers. Your gynecologic oncologist will work with you to develop the right treatment plan for you.
You may also work with a:
- Surgeon, who performs surgical procedures
- Radiation oncologist, who oversees your radiation therapy
- Medical oncologist, who oversees chemotherapy
In order to help you stay connected with your multidisciplinary care team, Sarah Cannon provides nurse navigators specialized in your type of cancer to guide you through every step of your cancer journey - from diagnosis through survivorship.
Gynecologic cancer clinical trials
Clinical trials can be a good option for many people with gynecologic cancer. Clinical trials always provide treatment that is the standard of care or better. The standard of care is what medical experts agree is the best treatment for a specific kind of cancer based on the patient’s health. Clinical trials are strictly managed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Many new, promising treatments are currently only available through clinical trials. These trials can also give you access to the latest medical care closer to home, so you don’t have to travel. During a clinical trial, you’ll be closely monitored by your medical team.
Ask your oncologist if a clinical trial is a good fit for you, and to learn more about clinical trials, read Clinical Trials 101 – Everything you need to know.
Learn more about gynecologic cancer treatment at Sarah Cannon.