What should I do if my doctor says I have a gynecologic cancer?

If your doctor says you have a gynecologic cancer, you may feel scared, depressed, shocked, worried, angry, confused, and many other emotions. Everyone reacts differently to a cancer diagnosis. There is no one ‘right’ way to react.

As you come to terms emotionally with the diagnosis, here are some practical things you can do as you, your loved ones, and doctor decide on the best medical course of action:

Ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist, a doctor who is trained to treat gynecologic cancers. Gynecologic oncologists are not located in all geographic areas. If that is the case in your area, you may be referred to other types of doctors who help treat gynecologic cancer, such as gynecologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. You may have a team of doctors and nurses working with you to create a treatment plan.

When you see a doctor next, you may want to:

  • Develop and bring a list of questions to ask.
  • Take notes or use an audio recorder during your visit.
  • Bring a family member or friend to help listen to and understand what the doctor says.

Before starting treatment, many experts recommend that you get a second opinion about your diagnosis and treatment plan.

What is staging and why do I need it?

Cancer staging describes the size and extent of the disease in the body and whether it has spread from its original site to other parts of the body.

To find out the stage of a gynecologic cancer, your doctor may perform several tests. These results:

  • Will help the doctor develop the best possible treatment plan.
  • Can be used to estimate the likely outcome or course of the disease.

What are the types of cancer treatment?

Different types and combinations of cancer treatment are possible, depending on the type of cancer and the stage at which it is diagnosed. Possible treatments include:

  • Surgery: A surgeon removes as much of the cancer as possible. The extent or possibility of surgery depends on the type of cancer, the stage, and the patient’s overall health.
  • Chemotherapy: A doctor uses drugs to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. These drugs also can harm healthy cells, which may cause side effects. Side effects usually get better or go away when chemotherapy is over.
  • Radiation Therapy: A doctor uses high doses of radiation—high-energy rays—to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading. Radiation therapy does not hurt while it is being given, but it can cause side effects.

You may want to talk to your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies that help determine how well new medical approaches work.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Inside Knowledge: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer campaign