Treatment of ovarian cancer by gynecologic oncologists provide women significantly higher survival rates.
Medicine, like most other things in life, has become increasingly complex. That complexity has resulted in increased specialization. While hyper-specialization often results in doctors looking at body parts rather than at the patient as a whole, there are times when no one but a highly trained specialist should be consulted.
Ovarian cancer is one disease which requires a super specialist. A recent study has revealed that two-thirds of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States do not receive optimal care. There are no consistently accurate screening tests yet for ovarian cancer, so this type of cancer is frequently not diagnosed until it has already spread.
Ovarian cancer usually requires surgery followed by chemotherapy. A complete hysterectomy is almost always performed, a surgical procedure that gynecologists do on a regular basis for non-cancer patients for a variety of reasons. The surgical procedure for cancer, however, is different. Not only are the reproductive organs removed, but the surgeon must painstakingly remove every visible cancerous cell (ovarian cancer cells are said to look like rice crispies), in a process known as debulking. This is not something that the ordinary gynecologist does on a regular basis.
Gynecologic oncologists are gynecologists who receive specialized training in dealing with gynecologic cancers. They receive surgical training above and beyond the training received by regular Obstetrician/Gynecologists. They are also trained specifically in establishing chemotherapy programs for gynecologic cancers. Like most surgical procedures, the more often the surgeon performs the debulking procedure the better the expected results. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure helps.
Based upon experience, ovarian cancer specialists at major cancer centers have established protocols for treating ovarian cancer, based upon type and stage. Among the newer treatments is delivering chemotherapy directly into the abdomen through ports rather than the more typical intravenous chemotherapy treatments. These protocols provide women with the best possible outcomes. Unfortunately, a recent study confirmed that most ovarian cancer patients are treated by OB/GYNs rather than gynecologic oncologists, and that most of those patients do not receive care that follows the guidelines established by the cancer centers. The failure to follow the established protocols and guidelines can have devastating results. The five year survival rate for one type of ovarian cancer is 35% for patients who receive optimal care from a gynecologic oncologist who follows the protocols but only a 25% five year survival rate for patients whose treatment does not follow the guidelines.
Many women undoubtedly rely on their regular OB/GYN to care for their cancer. Other women do not live near a major medical center where gynecologic oncologists practice. What is disturbing is that too many OB/GYNs do not refer their ovarian cancer patients to physicians who can give the type of care that provides the best possible long term results.
The bottom line is clear: a patient who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer should be treated by a gynecologic oncologist at a major medical center where ovarian cancer surgery is regularly performed.