Gynecologic oncology is a medical specialty which focuses on cancers of the female reproductive tract. Specialists in gynecologic oncology have completed a four year residency in obstetrics and gynecology, followed by a fellowship in gynecologic oncology which lasts between two and four years. These medical specialists are famous for providing excellent continuity of care, working with their patients from the start of a cancer diagnosis to routine follow up exams, and they can care for women with and without cancer, in contrast with more general oncologists who deal only with patients who have cancer.
A number of cancers can involve the female reproductive tract, including cervical, uterine, vaginal, ovarian, and vulvar cancers. Gynecologic oncologists can also treat trophoblastic disease, cysts, fibroids, and endometriosis in their patients. Their training in general gynecology also allows them to perform routine gynecological exams and to offer other forms of routine gynecological care, ranging from interventions to remove abnormal cells which may become cancerous to providing advice about family planning.
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As with all specialists in cancer care, gynecologic oncologists are very interested in developing screening methods for cancers which can be used to identify disease early, and in preventing cancers when possible. The most famous screening test for gynecological cancer is probably the Pap test used to check for signs of abnormal cell growth around the cervix, but other screening tests can be performed as well to identify abnormalities and determine the nature and severity of unusual cell growth.
In patients who have been diagnosed with cancer, a specialist in gynecologic oncology can perform tests to determine the stage and location of the cancer, and make treatment recommendations to the patient. Once the patient and physician develop a treatment plan, the specialist can oversee treatments which can include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Like other oncologists, specialists in this field also have experience in pain management, and may offer referrals to psychotherapists and other medical professionals who can support patients during treatment and remission.
In addition to being involved directly in patient care, specialists in gynecologic oncology also participate in cancer research, which includes the development of new treatments, learning more about specific cancers, looking for new screening methods, and educating patients about cancer. Female reproductive cancers are a major problem in many regions of the world, and there is a great deal of material for potential research, for people who are interested in careers in cancer research.