Multidisciplinary Team Approach
Our expert team includes a gynecologic oncologist – a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancers that are located on a woman's reproductive organs. Gynecologic oncologists have completed intensive training about surgical, chemotherapeutic, radiation, and research techniques that are important to providing the best care for gynecologic cancers.
Our gynecological cancer care team includes specialists in:
- Gynecologic oncology
- Medical oncology
- Radiation oncology
- Social work
- Clinical nutrition
- Home services
Gynecologic Cancer Treatment Options
At our cancer center, the latest state-of-the-art treatments and technologies are available to our patients. It is important to remember that different cancers require different treatments based on a variety of factors. For this reason, your treatment plan will be designed to meet the needs and requirements of your specific form of cancer.
Our doctors will create an individualized treatment plan for each patient. Cancer treatment plans depend upon:
- Exact location of tumor
- Stage of cancer
- Patient's age
- General health of patient
Patients and doctors will confer to carefully consider treatment options, while considering how the treatment might change a patient's appearance, speech ability, and eating and breathing. There is much to consider, and each step will be carefully analyzed for the best interest of the patient. Treatment options may include:
- Surgery, which is often the first treatment for tumors
- Chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells through the use of drugs carried through the bloodstream
- Radiation therapy
CHEMOTHERAPY FOR GYN CANCERS
Chemotherapy for gynecologic cancers can be given orally, intravenously or directly injected into the abdominal cavity. By far, the most common method of administration is directly into the bloodstream. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach all parts of the body. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles, and periods of chemotherapy treatment are alternated with rest periods when no chemotherapy is given. Chemotherapy may be administered in a single day, over the course of a week or even once a month. The frequency of chemotherapy depends largely on the type of cancer and type of drug or drugs being given. The length of time for chemotherapy is based on evidence guidelines, response to treatment and side effects. Most women with ovarian cancer receive chemotherapy for about 6 months following their surgery.
Direct injection into the abdominal cavity, called intraperitoneal chemotherapy, is sometimes used in the treatment of ovarian cancers. With intraperitoneal chemotherapy, the medications are injected directly into the abdominal cavity in hopes of delivering a large dose directly to the tumor location. It is important for you to talk with your team about the pros and cons of this treatment. The type, dose, schedule and duration of your chemotherapy will be determined by your doctor.
Very few regimens require hospital admission. Some chemotherapy drugs come in an oral form and can be taken at home. By far, the most common setting for chemotherapy administration is in a specialized chemotherapy infusion center, which is staffed by our team of specially-trained infusion nurses.
Common drugs given for gynecological cancers include: Taxol, Taxotere, Carboplatin and Cisplatin.
Side effects from chemotherapy can be well controlled and may include: hair loss, constipation, diarrhea, appetite changes, nausea or vomiting.
External-beam radiation therapy
External-beam radiation therapy focuses a beam of radiation on the area with the cancer. Some cancer centers use conformal radiation therapy (CRT), in which computers help precisely map the location and shape of the cancer. CRT reduces radiation damage to healthy tissues and organs around the tumor by directing the radiation therapy beam from different directions to focus the dose on the tumor. External-beam radiation therapy is usually given with a high-energy x-ray beam. It can also be given with proton therapy (also called proton beam therapy), which uses protons rather than x-rays. At high energy, protons can kill cancer cells.
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
IMRT is a type of external-beam radiation therapy that uses CT scans to form a 3D picture of the prostate before treatment. A computer uses this information about the size, shape and location of the prostate cancer to determine how much radiation is needed to destroy it. With IMRT, high doses of radiation can be directed at the prostate without increasing the risk of damaging nearby organs.
High-dose rate (HDR) Brachytherapy
Carle is one of the very few radiation therapy centers in Illinois to offer the most advanced from of internal radiation therapy – high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy. While with external beam radiation therapy, a radiation beam goes through the normal tissue (skin, muscle, etc.) to get cancer tissue, with brachytherapy, a small radiation source, the size of a flax seed is placed in a tiny plastic tube inside the tumor/cancer tissue. This allows the delivery of a curative radiation dose to the site of cancer. While the words “high dose” may sound concerning to some patients, this only means that radiation is delivered over a short period of time, typically over 5-10 minutes, and patients can receive treatments on an outpatient basis. Carle offers this form of therapy with a state-of-the-art technology, Flexitron HDR brachytherapy unit, an HDR unit from Nucletron/Elekta. This form of treatment is utilized to treat patients with uterine cervix, uterine endometrial, and vaginal cancers. Carle is one of the few places in the nation to use a vaginal applicator with multiple peripheral channels to sculpt radiation dose to the site of cancer in the vagina, and avoid the normal vaginal tissue. Our HDR brachytherapy team includes a radiation oncologist, medical physicist, nurse, and radiation therapist. Women with uterine cervix and uterine endometrial cancers are routinely treated with deep sedation, which is administered by our anesthesiology staff, and this increases the patients’ level of comfort. The entire process of integrated cancer radiation therapy starts and ends in the HDR Suite at Carle Cancer Institute in Urbana.
Surgery is most often the recommended main course of treatment for gynecological cancers. Surgical procedures are used to determine the stage of cancer or to remove the cancerous tumor if found at an early stage.
Types of cancer treatment surgeries include:
- Removal of uterus and cervix
- Unilateral or bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy
- Removal of ovaries or fallopian tubes
Obtaining a small sample of lymph nodes or tissue from your pelvis or abdomen for further examination.
An incision is made in the abdomen to remove cancerous tissue and sometimes fluid from the abdomen.
Our board certified gynecologic oncologist works with a multidisciplinary team in order to determine the best course of treatment. When surgery is necessary, most patients will undergo minimally invasive procedures. Minimally invasive surgeries can be done in one of two ways:
This minimally invasive procedure is a safer, less invasive procedure than the traditional open hysterectomy; patients experience shorter hospital stays, better overall outcomes and faster recovery times.
Surgeons use small incisions in the abdomen to perform the necessary procedure. Patients experience less pain post-procedure and recover faster than with more invasive procedures.
For younger women with gynecologic cancers, our expert multidisciplinary team will work with patients to help preserve fertility beyond cancer treatment.