Gynecologic Oncologist: Your Women's Cancer Specialist

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What is a gynecologic oncologist?

A gynecologic oncologist specializes in diagnosing, treating and preventing gynecological cancer. They provide women the medical and surgical treatments they need for ovarian, cervical, uterine, vaginal, and other cancers of the female reproductive organs. Gynecologic oncologists often care for patients as part of cancer healthcare teams that include radiation oncologists, pathologists, nurses, and social workers.

Gynecologic oncology, or Gyn Onc, is a subspecialty of obstetrics and gynecology. Ob/Gyns train for an additional 3 to 4 years in Gyn Onc to be eligible for board certification.

A gynecologic oncologist typically:

  • Evaluates a patient’s medical history and teaches the patient about the type of cancer involved

  • Provides a care plan for cancer treatment

  • Leads or collaborates with cancer healthcare teams that include radiation oncologists, pathologists, nurses, and social workers who provide various types of care for patients during and after treatment

  • Orders and interprets laboratory, imaging, genetic and surgical tests to confirm and analyze the presence of cancer

  • Orders or provides cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy

  • Orders or provides palliative therapies, such as medications and physical therapy to manage pain and symptoms caused by cancer

  • Performs surgery to remove cancerous growths and precancerous cells

  • Performs surgery to repair or improve the appearance of body areas damaged by cancer or cancer treatment

Gynecologic oncologists may also be known by the following names: Gyn Onc, gynecologic oncology surgeon, women’s oncologist, gynecologic cancer specialist, women’s cancer doctor, or women’s cancer specialist.

Who should see a gynecologic oncologist?

Women with a previous diagnosis of reproductive cancer (including ovarian, uterine, cervical, vaginal or vulvar cancer, or gestational trophoblastic disease) should see a gynecologic oncologist on a regular basis to monitor cancer progression and treatment, as well as manage their symptoms. Women with a high risk of gynecological cancer should also see a specialist to explore treatments to reduce the risk.

Most women who are newly diagnosed with reproductive cancer by a primary care doctor, surgeon, or obstetrician-gynecologist (Ob/Gyn) should seek care from a gynecologic oncologist as soon as possible to begin exploring treatment options. Seeing a women’s cancer specialist increases the likelihood of receiving the most up-to-date treatments, including drugs in clinical trials for cancer.

When should you see a gynecologic oncologist?

You should see a gynecologic oncologist when a primary care doctor, Ob/Gyn, surgeon, or other doctor has diagnosed you with reproductive cancer. The doctor who diagnosed you should discuss with you the type of cancer, its location, and whether it appears to have spread to other areas of your body. He or she will refer you to a gynecologic oncologist to discuss further tests, reach a final diagnosis, and design a treatment plan.

You can also request a referral to a gynecologic oncologist for a second opinion regarding a cancer diagnosis and suggested treatment plan.

What does a gynecologic oncologist treat?

The specific types of cancer treated by gynecologic oncologists include:

What does a gynecologic oncologist test?

A gynecologic oncologist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests for the presence of cancer. These tests include:

  • Diagnostic surgery to diagnose the presence and extent of cancer—how far it has spread. This includes a biopsy, where the surgeon removes a small amount of tissue, as well as minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgery, which allows the doctor to see inside your pelvic area for signs of cancer.

  • Genetic tests to detect gene mutations linked to cancer

  • Imaging tests including X-rays, CT (computed tomography) scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and nuclear scans, such as PET and PET/CT scans

  • Laboratory tests of urine, blood, and biopsies including a lymph node biopsy for signs of cancer

  • Reproductive health exams including pelvic exam and pelvic ultrasound

What procedures and treatments does a gynecologic oncologist do?

Gynecologic oncologists order or perform various procedures and treatments to manage different types of women’s reproductive cancer. They prescribe medication, such as chemotherapy, as well as perform surgery to treat cancer.

Common medication-based gynecologic cancer procedures and treatments:  

  • Curative medical treatments including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy

  • Palliative therapies including medications to manage pain and symptoms from cancer and its treatment

Common types of surgery:  

  • Catheter or port insertion for chemotherapy and blood tests. A surgeon inserts a semipermanent catheter or port through which you receive chemotherapy and other medications as part of cancer treatment.

  • Debulking surgery for ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer to remove as much cancer as possible

  • Gastrointestinal and urinary tract surgery after removing later-stage cancer that has spread to adjacent tissues

  • Hysterectomy to remove the uterus, cervix and part of the vagina

  • Oophorectomy to remove the ovaries

  • Preventive surgery to remove precancerous cells to stop cancer from developing, such as the removal of precancerous cells of the cervix. Another name for it is prophylactic surgery.

  • Robot-assisted surgery and other minimally invasive surgeries for smaller cancers in the early stages of disease

  • Reconstructive surgery to restore function or improve the appearance of body areas damaged by cancer treatment. A common example of this is reconstructive vaginal surgery.

Gynecologic oncologist training and certification

The doctor who referred you or diagnosed you with cancer can help you choose a gynecologic oncologist. Keep in mind that a doctor may practice gynecologic oncology without becoming board certified in the subspecialty. However, board certification is key because it confirms the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skill in treating women with gynecologic cancer. For expert care, find a gynecologic oncologist with the right qualifications.

The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Osteopathic Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology certify eligible physicians in gynecologic oncology.

A board-certified gynecologic oncologist is an MD or DO who has:

  • Completed specialized residency training in obstetrics and gynecology

  • Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor’s knowledge and skills in obstetrics and gynecology

  • Completed specialized training (a fellowship) in gynecologic oncology

  • Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skills in gynecologic oncology

To maintain board certification, a doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program.

There are gynecologic oncology surgeons who specialize in specific types or treatments of cancer. You may want to work with a gynecologic oncologist who is a leader in their field for treating your type of cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 22
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  5. Obstetrics and Gynecology. American Board of Medical Specialties.

  6. Special Requirements for Gynecologic Oncology. American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

  7. Subspecialty Certification in Gynecologic Oncology. American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

  8. Types of Oncologists.

  9. Gynecology Oncology Surgery. Johns Hopkins Medicine.