Who Should Be on Your Endometrial Cancer Team?

Health Writer
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According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), endometrial cancer is the most common female gynecological cancer in women. Because endometrial cancer generally has a clearly identifiable symptom— abnormal vaginal bleeding — physicians diagnose it at an early stage in about two-thirds of cases, leading to relatively high survival rates. That said, seeking care from a team of cancer specialists is still very important, particularly in women of childbearing age or who have certain genetic syndromes.


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Multidisciplinary teams are the gold standard in cancer care

Cancer doesn’t just affect your health; it affects all aspects of your life and requires care from health care professionals who have expertise in a range of medical and other support areas. A multidisciplinary team, which is standard at most hospitals and medical institutions, improves diagnosis and treatment options for endometrial cancer. Here’s a look at who might be on your cancer care team.


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A gynecologic oncologist leads the team

A gynecologic oncologist is typically the first person you see for assessment of surgical treatment for endometrial cancer, says Anna Beavis, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University. “They are trained in both surgical removal of gynecological cancer and in the treatment of those cancers afterwards,” she says.


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Find a gynecologist oncologist trained in laparoscopic surgery

Ask your oncologist if they performs laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery, says Dr. Beavis. “We know that minimally invasive surgery lowers the risk of complications, shortens hospital stays, and patients recover quicker.” Furthermore, seek care from a surgeon at an institution that performs a high volume of these surgeries. Evidence shows you’re likely to have more comprehensive care when you're treated by a surgeon with extensive experience.


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Gynecologic oncologists also address fertility issues

In a certain subset of patients, it may be safe to leave the ovaries instead of removing them during surgery, especially in women who still hope to have children. “It’s important to seek the care of a gynecologic oncologist who may be able to treat you with hormones instead of surgery to potentially help you achieve pregnancy in the future,” Dr. Beavis says.


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A radiation oncologist may be a key team member

Most patients just need surgery to remove endometrial tumors. However, depending on how the cancer cells look under the microscope, you may also need additional treatment. Radiation therapy, provided by a radiation oncologist, is the most likely post-surgery therapy.


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Oncology nurses provide additional support

Oncology nurses are specialists with expertise in caring for cancer patients. They assist in many aspects of your care and provide education to you and your family.


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Pathologists determine specifics of your endometrial cancer

A pathologist examines sample cells from your tumor under a microscope to determine what type of cancer you have and how advanced it is. Your gynecologic oncologist uses this information to recommend the best course of treatment.


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Pathologists also look for genetic markers

Two to 5 percent of endometrial cancers might be related to Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that increases your risk for several types of cancer. If you have a strong family history of cancer, or were diagnosed with endometrial cancer at a young age, it may indicate Lynch syndrome. The Society for Gynecological Oncology recommends that women with endometrial cancer undergo genetic testing even if they don’t have a family history of cancer.


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Genetic counselors provide context and decision-making guidance

Based on the results of the screening for Lynch syndrome, you may meet with a genetic counselor who can discuss the results and help you determine what, if any, further steps you should take to reduce your risk for future cancer. A genetic counselor can also help your family evaluate whether it makes sense for them to also undergo genetic testing.


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Patient advocates look out for you

A patient advocate (often called patient navigator) guides you and your family on your cancer journey, from initial screening and diagnosis through treatment and survivorship. A navigator is often a nurse or social worker. They ensure you get the right care at the right time, answer questions, and help with the logistics of cancer care (for example, insurance coverage or finding sources of financial assistance).


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Primary care providers look out for your overall health

Survivors of endometrial cancer who are obese are more likely to have higher cancer-specific death rates and face additional illnesses, even death, from obesity-related heart disease. Research in non-gynecological cancers demonstrate that lifestyle changes — such as losing weight — may help lower the chance of your cancer recurring. Your primary care provider can help you lose weight and manage heart — and other — co-existing conditions.


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Social workers help you with non-medical issues

Cancer touches all aspect of your life and affects everyone in your family. Social workers help families cope with the entire experience of cancer, including social, physical, spiritual, financial, and emotional aspects. A social worker can help family members deal with caregiving stress, identify financial or community resources, like support groups, and guide older adults in advanced care planning and dealing with loss and grief.


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Spiritual advisors provide comfort in difficult times

A chaplain or other spiritual advisor is an important part of many patients’ emotional health during cancer treatment. Patients who have someone to care for and support their spiritual needs have better quality of life, especially when they approach the end of life.


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Don’t underestimate the power of a support system

Remember, family and friends are also a crucial part of your cancer care team. Your spouse, parent, or an adult child can help you make difficult decisions about treatment, provide emotional and caregiving support, and advocate for your needs and wishes throughout your cancer journey.