Gynecologic oncologist: Specialization let me achieve my professional dream

As a gynecologic oncologist, I see women with every type of cancer related to the female reproductive system, except breast cancer. I treat women with ovarian, uterine, cervical, and vulvar cancers. And I routinely perform surgery, prescribe chemotherapy and suggest clinical trials.

I decided to specialize in gynecologic oncology after figuring out what was really important to me in medical school. I realized one day that I didn’t just want to operate on my patients. I wanted to take care of them long-term. Being a gynecologic oncologist allows me to do that: I see women from the time they’re diagnosed though their whole cycle of cancer care. And that is really satisfying.

What goes into every diagnosis

Part of each new patient’s evaluation process is obtaining the imaging, pathology slides and reports from any previous treatment, so that our pathologists and radiologists can review them. Because about 20% of the time, the diagnosis we render is slightly different from the one patients got originally. And that difference can change our treatment recommendations.

That’s why a lot of people come to MD Anderson: for a fresh set of eyes. But my patients aren’t just getting my personal opinion. We have 23 full-time gynecologic oncologists on staff. And I rely on my colleagues and their expertise to help me provide each patient with the best possible options to choose from.

Every time I make a recommendation, I consider the current standard of care, as well as any clinical trials available. Those could deal with new therapies or new combinations of existing therapies. Sometimes, there’s even a novel treatment that’s only available here at MD Anderson.

Helping women weigh their options

I try to have a discussion with every woman right after her diagnosis, to see what options she wants to hold onto. That way, we can weigh her wishes against the treatment opportunities available, and explore any fertility sparing options, if she’s of childbearing age and has a relatively low-risk cancer.

Fertility preservation has become more of a concern, as we’re seeing cancer in younger and younger patients. Historically, doctors have only looked ahead a few years when taking care of cancer patients. Today, they’re paying more attention to survivorship, and how patients are doing 10, 15 or even 20 years after diagnosis.

What keeps us going

I love my job. It gives me a unique opportunity to take care of women. Curing patients is obviously very rewarding, but so is helping them figure out the right choices for themselves. We’re giving our patients peace of mind that they’re making the right decisions, whatever those may be.

I’ve seen more clinical trials and treatments become available over the past 15 years than ever before. A number of new treatments have been approved in the last two years alone, and there are others on the horizon that could also have a significant impact on patients’ lives. As a physician, that’s what drives me: the opportunity to give hope to other patients.

Pamela Soliman, M.D., is a gynecologic oncologist at MD Anderson.

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