What is gynecologic oncology?
Gynecologic oncology focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of cancers of the female reproductive organs, including the ovaries, endometrium, uterus, cervix, fallopian tube, peritoneal, vagina and vulva.
A gynecologic oncologist is a medical doctor who receives an additional four years of training after completing a residency in obstetrics and gynecology. During this training, he or she acquires highly specialized expertise to stage, diagnose and treat all types of gynecologic cancer.
In addition to performing specialized surgical procedures, a gynecologic oncologist is trained to provide chemotherapy and comprehensive oncology care to a woman throughout the course of cervical cancer treatment. We specialize in advanced surgical techniques that remove cancer, while sparing healthy tissue.
The Gynecologic Oncology Program at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center (Midwestern) specializes in treating women with cancer of the reproductive organs, including uterine, ovarian, cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers.
Dr. Sybilann Williams, an experienced gynecologic oncologist, leads this exceptional program.
Dr. Giuseppe Del Priore answers the top 3 questions women have about treating cervical cancer.
Are there minimally invasive treatment options for cervical cancer?
Most surgical treatments for cervical cancer can be minimally invasive. These techniques include robotic, laparoscopic, hand-assisted laparoscopic surgery or a combination of these. With laparoscopic surgery, a surgeon makes smaller incisions than open surgery and uses several thin instruments, along with an attached camera. A surgeon can place a hand through an incision during hand-assisted laparoscopic surgery. This incision is still smaller than traditional surgery. Robotic surgery is similar to laparoscopic surgery in that it involves smaller incisions than open surgery. The technique calls for a surgeon to perform surgery by controlling robotic arms with a computer. Surgeons at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) perform minimally invasive treatments whenever possible and have been doing so for decades.
Are there alternatives to radical surgery and radiation therapy?
Providing optimal care means coordinating experts in all areas of cancer treatment, including imaging, pathology, psychology, medical, surgical and radiation oncology. CTCA brings all these experts under one roof directly to the patient. This approach helps incorporate the patients’ values into a comprehensive treatment plan and avoid radical, single modality therapies whenever possible. For instance, neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which is given before the primary treatment, can be administered for a short course to “downstage” an advanced cancer. Bringing the cancer down to an earlier stage may allow for a less invasive surgery. Similarly, combining surgery after radiation and chemotherapy might reduce the amount of radiation needed. Multiple treatment methods can be blended in different proportions to minimize toxicity from any one treatment depending on the unique needs of the patient.
Can I still have children after treatment?
Many women worry that a diagnosis of cervical cancer eliminates their chance to have children. Fortunately, early diagnosis and new treatment approaches can preserve fertility in most women with cervical and other gynecologic cancers. A cone biopsy or a trachelectomy can be used to treat women with early cervical cancer and even some with more advanced lesions. Early cervical cancer is defined as stage 0, in which cancer cells are confined to the surface of the cervix, and stage I, in which the cancer is deeper but also still confined to the cervix.
A cone biopsy, often used to diagnose cervical cancer, may be the only treatment needed for women with early stage cancer who want to have children. With this type of biopsy, a cone-shaped piece of tissue is removed from the cervix. Trachelectomy is a surgery that removes the entire cancerous cervix and the upper part of the vagina while retaining the uterine fundus, the top of the uterus that carries a pregnancy. Women have been able to carry to term and deliver healthy babies by Cesarean section after a trachelectomy. Even for women with more advanced stages, use of novel chemotherapy combinations can destroy enough cancerous cells to make a trachelectomy possible.
CTCA surgeons use all these techniques. It’s important to keep in mind that the ovaries often can be saved during cervical cancer treatment. Reproductive technologies often further broaden the options for women who want to get pregnant after treatment.