Newly Diagnosed with Gynecologic Cancer
You’ve been diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer. Now what?
A gynecologic cancer diagnosis can leave you emotional and feeling overwhelmed with several questions. Our goal is to help you address some of the questions head-on, so you can properly prepare for your first oncology appointment.
We hope this guide will make your path to gynecologic cancer treatment a bit smoother.
What Kind of Doctor Should I See?
Typically, patients will move from their PCP (primary care physician) or gynecologist to an oncologist. Oncology is the study of cancer, therefore, an oncologist is a doctor who is medically trained to lead the care for patients after a cancer diagnosis. As a patient of Compass Oncology, you will have access to our gynecologic cancer specialists located in the Portland-Vancouver area.
Your oncologist will take the time to learn about your specific diagnosis and will consult with your care team to develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Your care team will include several specialists, including:
- Gynecologist cancer surgeon
- Radiation oncologist
- Genetic counselor
- Other cancer care specialists who can assist with treating potential side effects caused by gynecologic cancer or cancer treatments
While surgery may seem like the logical first step, some cases can benefit from a different approach. Visiting with the medical oncologist first will help determine the best treatment for your particular diagnosis.
What Kind of Gynecologic Cancer Do I Have?
Gynecologic cancer is a group of cancers that affect the tissue and organs of the female reproductive system. There are five main types of gynecologic cancers–each named after the organ it originated in–which include:
- Ovarian Cancer: a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries, which are the female reproductive glands located on each side of the uterus
- Cervical Cancer: cancer that begins in the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus (the organ where a fetus grows) that leads to the vagina (birth canal)
- Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer: a type of cancer that begins in the uterus, which is the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ in women where fetal development occurs
- Vulvar Cancer: a type of cancer that occurs on the vulva, the external part of the female genitals, including the clitoris, the vaginal lips, the opening to the vagina, and the surrounding skin and tissue
- Vaginal Cancer: cancer that begins in the vagina, which is the channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body
After determining what type of gynecologic cancer you have, your oncologist will explain how it could affect your treatment plan. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
What is the Extent of My Gynecologic Cancer?
Gynecologic cancer stages are typically expressed as a number on a scale of 0 through IV--with stage 0 representing contained, non-invasive cancers and stage IV representing cancers that have spread. The results of the biopsy and images taken will allow your oncologist to determine the extent of your gynecologic cancer. Read more about how ovarian, cervical, and endometrial cancers are staged.
Which Gynecologic Cancer Treatments Will I Receive?
Your cancer care team will discuss treatment options with you. Treatments will be based on a variety of factors including the type, stage of your gynecologic cancer, and your age. Gynecologic cancer treatment options include:
Your team at Compass Oncology will evaluate your individual situation and recommend the most effective treatment options.
Keep a Notebook
Your oncologist will be sharing a lot of important details with you and it can be hard to remember it all. To stay organized, we suggest getting a notebook to keep a record of important information. This can include information such as how you’re feeling and what medicines or supplements you’re taking, to any questions, thoughts, or observations you have regarding appointments and procedures. Try to put a date on everything you log down.
If a method other than paper works better for you, then commit to using it regularly. Having information written down (and on hand) can help keep the lines of communication open between you and your doctors.
Your First Oncology Appointment
We highly recommend that you take a relative or friend with you to your first appointment as a support partner. Not only will they be there to provide emotional support, but they can also listen and help take notes on all the information you will be receiving.
After Gynecologic Cancer Treatment
Following gynecologic cancer treatment, your doctors will want to monitor you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. These visits give your doctor an opportunity to address your questions and concerns, look for treatment-related side effects, and discuss other follow-up treatments that may be necessary.
Should I Get a Second Opinion?
Feeling confident about your gynecologic cancer diagnosis is extremely important, which is why many patients choose to get a second opinion before beginning a specific treatment plan. At Compass Oncology, our physicians provide many second opinions on both gynecologic cancer diagnosis and treatment options. Many insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment, but it is still a good idea to contact your insurance provider for verification of coverage.
You Are Not Alone
Through this difficult time, the physicians at Compass Oncology are here to help you every step of the way, including providing our patients with a binder with more helpful tips and what to expect during their gynecologic cancer journey. There are also various community resources that may help you too. Visit our Patient Resources page for more information.