By Steven Vasilev MD
If you are already under the care of a board certified or fellowship trained board eligible gynecologic oncologist then whether or not you should get a second opinion depends upon your level of trust and personal interaction with your oncologist. Gynecologic oncologists receive 3-4 years of training after ObGyn residency, gaining extra surgical skills which put them into an elite category of highly skilled cancer surgeons. Physicians in this category are specifically trained for treatment of gynecologic cancers, including surgery, chemotherapy and integration of radiation therapy into a comprehensive treatment plan.
On the other hand if you have not seen a gynecologic oncologist, the prudent thing to do is to seek one out and obtain a second opinion from them!! Even if the recommended treatment for a presumed early cancer sounds reasonable to you, it would behoove you to obtain a second opinion. It may mean the difference between cure and no cure.
Almost all universities and academic centers, including NCI designated cancer centers, have gynecologic oncologists on staff. The links section on this site has several options. The main site which lists most of the board certified or eligible gynecologic oncologists in the US is the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists: www.sgo.org
Universities and academic centers are definitely NOT the only place to find qualified gyn oncologists. In fact, these centers have a mix of senior and junior faculty, some who have just recently completed their fellowship. While these junior faculty members are certainly well qualified to care for you and have support from the senior faculty, there are many gyn oncologists in private practice who have a wealth of experience and potentially a better skill set to take care of you. This is because some private practices have a high volume of patients, in some cases exceeding that found in academic referral centers. Therefore,some private practitioners have a greater experience base than academic practitioners. Finally, some private practices are involved in clinicial research, while many are not. If you seek an opinion which may involve research studies, first determine if the practitioner you are going to see is involved in such trials.
The final, and potentially most important, advice is that not all gyn oncologists are the same. Some have better surgical skills than others, some give chemotherapy while others refer to medical oncologists, practice philosophies differ, and as in any area….personalities differ. It is unfortunately impossible to determine who is best suited for your special needs, but a bit of “research” regarding your potential doctor is wise. A certain amount of information can be gleaned from the the Society of Gynecologic Oncologist’s site and the National Practitioner’s Data Bank NPDB, but personality and philosophy differences are more difficult to assess. Unfortunately, there is no overall performance card available like that used in baseball. Some information of this subjective kind is available in patient forums and chats.
Steven A. Vasilev MD,MBA,FACOG,FACS is a fellowship trained and board certified gynecologic oncologist, which means he is specially trained and certified to take care of women with gynecologic cancers using a broad spectrum of skills. He has practiced at academic as well as private centers, has been on the faculty of three universities and continues to be involved in research and education. You can visit www.gyncancerdoctor.com to learn more about screening, prevention and treatment of gynecologic cancers.
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