Expert uterine & other gynecologic cancer treatment
If you’re diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, everything that comes next can seem overwhelming. Questions and worry about the coming days and weeks can take over, making it hard to know where to turn.
We’re here to help. Together, we’ll discuss how you’re feeling, answer your questions, and get started on creating a personalized treatment plan backed by the latest research and technology.
At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, our board-certified gynecologic oncologists work closely with medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, hematologists and surgeons. Our doctors have extensive involvement with research, as well as personalized patient care.
Our expert team is passionate about using scientific innovations, including clinical trials, to help patients improve their health. With technologically advanced cancer centers in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, high-quality care is always close to home.
Types of gynecologic cancer
Gynecologic cancer describes types of cancer that affect women’s reproductive organs. We treat all types of gynecologic cancers, including:
Uterine cancer is the most common type of gynecologic cancer. While women of any age may be diagnosed with uterine cancer, it most often affects women after they go through menopause. In most cases, uterine cancer is detected early and can be treated with minimally invasive surgery. Types of uterine cancer include:
Endometrial cancer accounts for 90% of uterine cancer diagnoses. This type of uterine cancer starts in the inner lining (endometrium) of the uterus. There are many types of endometrial cancer, including:
- Serous carcinoma
- Small cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Transitional carcinoma
- Uterine carcinosarcoma
Uterine sarcoma only affects about 10% of women diagnosed with uterine cancer. Uterine sarcoma starts in the myometrium layer of the uterus or the supporting tissues of the uterus. There are three main types of uterine sarcoma:
- Uterine leiomyosarcoma (LMS)
- Endometrial stromal sarcoma (ESS)
- Undifferentiated sarcoma
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cervix, the part of the body that connects the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer typically affects women who are over 30, though it can affect women of any age.
Infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. Pap tests are one of the key tests we use to detect early signs of cervical cancer. The HPV test is usually done along with the Pap test to check for HPV infection.
In most cases, cervical cancer can be treated with surgery. Often, we can use procedures that remove the cancer cells without causing infertility. Many of our patients are still able to conceive after they finish treatment for cervical cancer.
Cancer that starts in the ovaries is called ovarian cancer. The ovaries are two, small organs on the sides of the uterus. In addition to producing and releasing eggs, the ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone hormones. Ovarian cancer most frequently affects women between 50 and 70 years of age. Typical treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery and chemotherapy, and our team will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan that is specific to your needs. It can be difficult to detect ovarian cancer, so regularly visiting your women’s health doctor is the best way to detect ovarian cancer at an early stage when it’s the most treatable.
Vaginal cancer is a rare type of gynecologic cancer that occurs inside the vagina. In most cases, vaginal cancer starts in the vaginal lining. When vaginal cancer does occur, it’s usually treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
Vulvar cancer is a rare type of gynecologic cancer. This type of cancer occurs when cancer cells grow on the skin of the vulva. It typically forms a small, itchy lump and can be treated with surgery. Vulvar cancer is most frequently diagnosed in older women.
We’re skilled in treating other complex gynecologic conditions that aren’t cancer, including gestational trophoblastic diseases. No matter your symptoms, we’ll be able to diagnose your condition and guide you toward the most effective treatment available.
Symptoms of gynecologic cancer
Symptoms of gynecologic cancer can be similar to many other conditions. If you experience any of these symptoms, we would recommend getting started with one of our
- Abnormal bleeding during your period
- Abnormal lumps or masses on or in your vagina
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after menopause
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- A mass in your pelvic region
- Painful or frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more
Diagnosing gynecologic cancer
Your visit to a doctor often starts with a physical exam. After the exam, we usually need more information before we can diagnose cancer. Tests used to diagnose gynecologic cancer include:
A pap test, sometimes called a pap smear, is the typical way we detect and diagnose cervical cancer. During a pap test, we’ll gently swab your cervix to get a sample of your cervical cells. Then, we’ll examine these cells for any abnormalities. In most cases, we recommend a pap test once every three years for women between 21 and 29 and a pap test once every five years for women between 30 and 60.
We can also perform HPV tests at the same time as a pap. This is called an HPV co-test. This test checks for infection with HPV virus, which can cause cancer.
An ultrasound is a non-invasive test that uses sound waves to create a picture of the inside of your reproductive organs so we can look for growths or abnormalities.
A biopsy is usually needed to confirm whether skin cells, a growth or polyp is cancerous. During a biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed and examined in our lab. Most often, we’ll guide a thin tube to the area of concern and remove a small amount of tissue. This is a quick procedure but can cause mild discomfort. We’ll use local anesthetic or anesthesia as needed to help you feel more comfortable during the procedure.
Treating gynecologic cancer
Through advancements in cancer research, we’ve found that each person’s response to cancer treatment is unique. No two treatment plans are exactly the same. After gynecologic cancer is diagnosed, our team of oncologists will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan. You may need a combination of treatments for the best results, and we’ll work together to find the most effective combination for you. Common types of treatment for gynecologic cancer include:
Radiation therapy is used to treat and manage cancer in affected areas of the body by using beams of intense energy to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells can’t heal damage caused by radiation. It’s almost always paired with chemotherapy for the best results.
Chemotherapy, often called “chemo,” is a treatment used to destroy cancer cells through the entire body. This treatment option can be used alone but is often paired with radiation.
Surgery to remove the cancer cells is one of the most common treatments for gynecologic cancer. It can effectively treat many different types of gynecologic cancer, including cervical cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer. Our experienced surgeons perform minimally invasive surgeries, radical pelvic surgery, hysterectomies and many others. We’ll perform the most minimally invasive type of surgery possible to minimize your recovery time. In many cases, we’re also able to choose surgical options that enable our patients to remain fertile after their treatment is complete.
Sometimes, cancers are affected by certain hormones in the body. Hormone therapy uses hormones to treat cancer or to block hormones that help the cancer grow. This treatment is usually used alongside chemotherapy to treat more advanced gynecologic cancer.
Targeted therapy can isolate and change specific behaviors within cancer cells. This may include stopping their growth, blocking chemical signals within the cells or killing the cancer cells. Because targeted therapy attacks cancer cells, it does less damage to normal, healthy cells than chemotherapy.
Also called biotherapy, this relatively new treatment uses medicines that kick-start your body’s natural immune response to cancer. Some types of immunotherapy use human-made antibodies that directly attack cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells.