Gynecologic cancer accounts for about 10 percent of annual cancer deaths for women in the United States, yet there are only 1,000 board-certified gynecologic oncologists across the nation. Fortunately for the women in Suffolk County, two of these elite specialists are at Stony Brook University Medical Center. With September designated as National Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Michael Pearl and fellow gynecologic oncologist Dr. Melissa Henretta explain how women can benefit from knowing more about the role of a gynecologic oncologist.
What is a gynecologic oncologist?
A gynecologic oncologist is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist who specializes in the diagnosis and comprehensive treatment of women with cancer of the reproductive organs. This includes cervical, ovarian (including the fallopian tubes and peritoneum or lining of the abdominal cavity), uterine (endometrium or lining of the uterus), vaginal and vulvar cancers. There are also many premalignant conditions leading to gynecologic cancer such as cervical dysplasia (abnormal changes in the cells that appear on the surface of the cervix) that a gynecologic oncologist is trained to diagnose and treat. To become a gynecologic oncologist, an obstetrician/ gynecologist must undergo an additional three to four years of training in gynecologic oncology. This training includes learning the surgical procedures necessary to treat gynecologic cancer or its complications, prescribing the appropriate chemotherapy and/or coordinating radiation therapy with radiation oncologists, when needed.
Does being treated by a gynecologic oncologist make a difference in outcomes?
While screening has dramatically improved over the past decades, and very early stage gynecologic cancers and premalignant conditions are diagnosed and treated sooner, a key factor in outcomes is treatment by a specialist. Studies show that women treated by a gynecologic oncologist are more likely to have better outcomes than those treated by non-specialists. This can be attributed, in part, to the comprehensive knowledge and skills developed by a gynecologic oncologist.
A gynecologic oncologist also understands the impact of cancer and its treatment on all aspects of a woman’s life, including future childbearing, sexuality, physical and emotional well-being, and her family.
What distinguishes Stony Brook’s approach to gynecologic oncology?
As the only academic, subspecialty gynecologic oncology practice in Suffolk County, our approach is comprehensive and multidisciplinary.
Because we are directly involved with all aspects of our patients’ care, from diagnosis and treatment to follow-up, the long-term relationships we develop with our patients and their primary care physicians reduces the probability of any potential problems that can result from fragmented care.
We perform all the surgical procedures necessary to treat gynecologic cancer, or its complications, and have extensive experience administering intravenous, oral and intraperitoneal chemotherapy. Our extended chemotherapy team includes physicians, clinical pharmacists, physician assistants, social workers and nurses.
We also collaborate with other cancer specialists from the Stony Brook University Cancer Center and work closely with the Department of Radiation Oncology to develop treatment plans and place advanced brachytherapy devices, which provide localized, precise, high-tech radiation therapy.
What other specialty services do you provide?
Because our practice is part of Stony Brook University Medical Center, we are frequently involved in National Cancer Institute-funded research studies and clinical trials aimed at finding more effective and less toxic treatments to further advance care and improve survival. At any given time, we have approximately 25 chemotherapy trials available for women with a variety of gynecologic cancers.
We also offer comprehensive support services including pain and symptom management, hospice care and referrals for counseling. For the community, information about prevention, diagnosis and management of gynecologic cancers is provided through support groups and lecture series.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with a gynecologic oncologist, call (631) 444-4000.
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