Dr. Yi-Chun Lee, gynecologic oncologist and system chair of Women’s Health Services at Catholic Health, answers commonly asked questions about gynecologic cancer.
What is a gynecologic oncologist?
A gynecologic oncologist specializes in diagnosing and treating invasive diseases of the female reproductive system, including ovarian, endometrial, vulvar, vaginal and cervical cancers and preinvasive diseases.
We also provide surgical support to general obstetricians/gynecologists for obstetrical emergencies such as maternal hemorrhage and complex gynecological surgery.
Are there screening tests for gynecologic cancers?
Certain gynecologic cancers can be screened. For example, a Pap smear detects cervical cancer and sometimes vaginal disease. Other gynecological cancers, like ovarian cancer, don't have sensitive and specific screening techniques or strategies. That makes keeping up with annual gynecological exams important. Early detection can help to improve outcomes.
What are some symptoms of gynecologic cancers?
Symptoms, such as ovarian cancer, can be vague and nonspecific. That makes detection difficult. Certain subtle signs, like bloating or nonspecific abdominal or pelvic pain, don't go away. Other symptoms may include unexplained gastrointestinal issues, like feeling full early—also urinary symptoms, such as frequent urination.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss the annual exams and screenings you need. Especially contact your doctor if you are concerned about your health.
Is genetic counseling recommended for gynecologic cancers?
Genetic counseling is highly recommended for gynecologic cancers. Every patient diagnosed with ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer should have genetic counseling and testing for BRCA 1 and 2 mutations according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and American Society of Clinical Oncology guidelines.
In addition, there are specific mutations in the DNA mismatch repair genes among endometrial cancer patients associated with Lynch syndrome. Families that have Lynch syndrome have more instances of cancer than expected, including colon cancer and endometrial cancer.
If a patient is detected to carry the germ-line as mentioned above mutations, her first-degree relatives should also have the genetic testing for the specific mutations. The first-degree relatives are mothers, sisters and daughters.
Genetic counseling is recommended even if the patient or first-degree relatives don’t have gynecologic cancer. Still, several women in the family tree have had ovarian, breast, and colon cancers.
What is the treatment if you test positive for an inherited genetic mutation?
The most common situation we encounter is with ovarian cancer. Typically, it occurs in a patient diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and her sisters or daughters (who don’t have ovarian cancer) are subsequently tested and found to carry the BRCA mutations.
The management depends on age and if childbearing is completed. For those BRCA mutation carriers who are peri- or postmenopausal or have completed childbearing, the recommendation would be to remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries. Those considering planning a pregnancy in the future are commonly monitored with pelvic examination, pelvic ultrasound and serum CA-125 testing every six months.
Does Catholic Health offer advanced treatments for gynecologic cancers?
Our team performs minimally invasive surgeries using the most up-to-date DaVinci Surgery robotic system and traditional laparoscopic surgeries.
We also treat patients with chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. We work closely with chemo-pharmacists and medical oncologists about those treatment options.
Through our affiliation with Roswell Park Cancer Center, one of the nation’s leading cancer research centers, we offer Long Islanders access to specific exclusive clinical trials.
Learn more about our current clinical trials.
How do you help patients navigate their journey after a cancer diagnosis?
Nobody wants to get diagnosed with cancer. We understand it’s a frightening and uncertain time. That’s why we focus on providing attentive and compassionate care when discussing the best treatment plan for the type and stage of cancer.
Our patients and their loved ones need time to ask questions and absorb information. We want them to understand their diagnosis and their treatment options.
They are advised to bring a spouse, child, parent or other loved one to their first appointment. This makes the experience less overwhelming. And having someone else who can listen and take notes helps both at the appointment and afterward.
Patients need to know they’re not dealing with this alone. Our physicians and staff keep communication lines open for any questions or updates. We're all here to help. They are not taking on the cancer on their own.
Find Care at Catholic Health
The gynecologic cancer experts at Catholic Health Cancer Institutes across Long Island create customized treatment plans to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Our team of cancer specialists includes board-certified oncologists, gynecologic surgeons, registered nurse navigators, and infusion/chemotherapy nurses. Board-certified radiologists use the latest advances in diagnostic imaging. Our care team also includes social workers and spiritual support staff who can offer comfort and support to you and your loved ones.
Call 844-86-CANCER (844-862-2623) for more information.