To us, one of the most important goals is to reduce anxiety and stress associated with cancer treatment and to support your overall well-being. Each patient will meet with a specialized advanced practice nurse or physician assistant who will help guide you and your family through diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care.
This provider works closely with your doctors to coordinate your care, answer questions and connect you to beneficial support services. Throughout your care, this team member will be your advocate by providing emotional support and education about your diagnosis and care plan, from diagnosis to survivorship.
Gynecologic Cancer Screening and Diagnosis
Regular visits to your gynecologist or primary care provider can help identify early signs of gynecologic cancer. During a pelvic exam, your doctor will look for masses and irregularities on the cervix, uterus, ovaries, vagina and vulva. A Pap test will check for the presence of cancer cells on the cervix.
If cancer is suspected, your doctor may order the following diagnostic imaging tests and refer you to our team for a consultation/opinion on management options:
- Ultrasound of the pelvis to assess the gynecologic organs
- CT scan or MRI to better characterize your condition and look at other body parts
- PET scan to determine if certain cancers have spread to other parts of the body
- Colposcopy – viewing the cervix and vagina with a lighted magnifying lens
- Dilation and curettage (D&C) – dilating the cervix so abnormal tissue can be removed from the cervical canal and uterine lining
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) – using a heated wire loop to remove abnormal cells and tissue from the cervix
- Biopsy - taking a small sample of abnormal tissue for a pathologist to review under the microscope
- Diagnostic laparoscopy – surgical procedure in which a thin, lighted tube with a camera is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen for the surgeon to directly see organs. Other small incisions can be made for the surgeon to obtain tissue biopsies or remove smaller masses or organs.
- CA-125, HE4 or OVA 1 blood tests along with other “tumor markers”
- Our Colposcopy Clinic is a specialized clinic for women with pre-cancerous cells of the cervix, vulva, vagina and uterus that offers counseling, long term monitoring and treatment for these conditions.
Gynecologic Cancer Treatments
Northwestern Medicine offers advanced technology coupled with compassionate care designed just for women. Your gynecologic cancer treatment will depend on your overall health, extent of the disease and your tolerance for various therapies. Treatment options may include:
- Surgery — the primary treatment for gynecologic cancer is often surgical removal of the tumor, the affected organ as well as the nearby lymph nodes. Our specially trained gynecologic oncologists will often use the da Vinci® Surgical System for robotic-assisted removal of tumors with greater precision, faster healing and less pain. However, more extensive surgeries may also be necessary. Our team specializes in radical cancer surgery such as tumor debulking as well as the complex after care such operations require.
- Radiation therapy — external beam therapy sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. With internal radiation, sometimes called brachytherapy, small radioactive seeds or capsules are implanted directly in the tumor. This allows for a higher dose of radiation for a shorter course of treatment. This type of treatment is given by specialized radiation oncologists in close collaboration with your gynecologic oncology team.
- Chemotherapy — drugs may be administered, either through an IV line or as a pill, to interfere with the cancer cell’s ability to reproduce. Certain types of chemotherapy are given directly into the abdomen (intraperitoneal). Your experienced gynecologic oncologist will determine the best combination of medications and how to give them for your stage and type of cancer.
- Hormone therapy — your doctor may ask you to take a hormone receptor test to determine if the hormones in your body are causing your cancer cells to grow. If so, hormone therapy may help prevent the growth, spread and recurrence of gynecologic cancer.
- Intraperitoneal chemotherapy — part of the chemotherapy for ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer can be administered directly into the abdominal cavity. This approach has significantly improved long-term survival for appropriate patients.
- Clinical trials — You can participate in an array of clinical trials, most of which focus on new treatment options for gynecologic cancer. Our dedicated staff can help determine if you are eligible for a trial. Any treatment given as part of a clinical trial continues to be given and supervised by your treating gynecologic oncologist.
- Palliative Care — Your team collaborates closely with palliative medicine providers who are experts at treating any bothersome side effects of cancer treatment. These providers can also manage symptoms caused by the cancer itself and focus on optimizing your quality of life.
- Survivorship — once you have completed treatment for your cancer, we have a specialized program that helps you transition from active treatment to surveillance and follow up. Our advanced practice provider will educate and support you in restoring optimal health to your body and mind, learning to cope with fear of recurrence and recognize signs of symptoms of cancer returning. We will focus on healing from persistent treatment-related side effects, guidelines for a healthy life style, and discussing issues of intimacy and sexual health after cancer treatment.
Support Services for Gynecologic Cancer
If you are battling gynecologic cancer, Northwestern Medicine Living Well Cancer Resources can be a vital component of your treatment and recovery. Living Well Cancer Resources serves as a gathering place, providing comfort and community to anyone experiencing the effects of cancer. The staff works to ensure that you and your family feel less isolated, better informed, more hopeful and empowered to take on the challenge of facing cancer.
Learn more about cancer support services.
Make An Appointment
Appointments are available through referral by your primary care physician. Call us at 630.933.4950 for more information about appointments. TTY 711.