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How important is it for ovarian cancer patients to be seen by a *gynecological oncologist?

edited December 2021 in Treatment
My mom was recently diagnosed with stage 3B ovarian cancer last month and she just started her first round of chemo this week. We also met with her oncologist for the first time last week. The oncologist seemed very kind but later when I went home and googled her, her profile on BC Cancer's website showed that she primarily specializes in gastrointestinal, lung, and breast cancer. She doesn't seem to be a gynecological oncologist (although it wasn't super clear from the website).

I am wondering how important it is for ovarian cancer patients to be specifically seen by a gynecological oncologist? And if it is very important, what is the best way to request a change to a different oncologist? I think I'd find it very uncomfortable to ask! 

Thank you in advance :) 


  • Fearless
    @skiwi Welcome to our community and hopefully we can be of help to you and your mother as she moves through this journey of cancer treatment.  

    Yes, it is important to have an oncologist trained in gynecological cancers once diagnosed.  You want the expertise they bring to treatment.  That said, don't rely too much on the website to understand your gynecologist's skills. I've found those profiles often quite inaccurate and often out of date.  That said, I'm not surprised she's listed with the other disciplines.  Much OVC treatment is similar to and often pulled from treatment for lung and gastrointestinal cancers.  I believe there are several of the newer drugs we now use for OVC that were actually developed for lung cancer originally.  Additionally, some of the provincial models for cancer care have the oncology departments working in teams where each play off the other's expertise.  That could also be the case here.  

    There is nothing wrong about just asking her oncologist about her background and training.  You can do that diplomatically and without offending. You've already stated you both like her so just start with that and then explain your underlying need to ensure your mother is in the hands of the expertise needed to treat her and ask the questions.  I'm sure she'll put your mind at ease and if not, then asking for a referral to someone with more of a specialty in gynecological issues is an option.  If you're still not comfortable to have that discussion yourself then perhaps your family physician could intervene. 

    Regardless, do know that you're in good hands in the BC system. It is world renowned for cancer research and treatment.  And I hope your mother's chemo goes well.  I am assuming from the timing mentioned that the current chemo is part of an overall primary treatment plan. Many of them are very successful at conclusion these days so I wish that for your mother. 

    Do keep in touch and let us know where we can be of help down the road.  You and she will be in our thoughts.
  • @Fearless - Vol Mod thank you so much for your reply! This is very helpful to know and a relief to read. And you're right that these profiles are often out of date because the profile I read was from back in 2013! I'll definitely consider asking my mom's oncologist about her background etc. 
  • Will your Mom be having surgery after the first few chemo treatments? A gynecologist oncologist surgeon for the debulking surgery is where those specialized skills will bring you great benefit. Once the debulking surgery part of treatment is over, the treatment focuses mostly on the oncology drugs which are similar across many types of cancer. When approaching the topic with your current doctor, you might ask if there is a gynecology/oncology specific surgeon available to do the surgery. As for clarifying your current doctor's qualifications, you might find a more up to date bio by googling the cancer center where you are being treated and then look her up within that. 
  • gaylestorm
    After my oncologist retired I was treated by a breast oncologist, which was okay when the cancer was not active but when my numbers and ct scan changed she became less sure of what course we should take.  I also did not want to offend her but did ask if she would mind if I had a second opinion.  She was not the least offended and I ended up with a very good gyne oncologist.  I would not hesitate to ask and a good doctor will not be offended. 
  • I am also at the beginning stages of my treatment,  having had one course of chemo with my second coming up on New Year's Eve.

    I have two Oncologists working my case. One is a Medical Oncologist who is overseeing my chemo and other procedures (paracentesis) and a second Gynecological Oncologist who will be performing my surgery.  Even though they are at different hospitals,  they have worked very closely to plan a course of action and coordinate with each other. 

    You have every right to ensure you get the best care available for your Mother and no Doctor should be offended by you asking, respectfully, about their specialty and experience. 

    I wish you and your Mother all the best through this difficult journey.