Gynecologic Oncology Services at WCHN

GYNONCIf you or a woman you care about is facing a gynecologic cancer diagnosis, it’s important to know that Western Connecticut Health Network has a team of gynecologic oncology specialists with the same high level of expertise you’d find at any big-city cancer center.

This means you have convenient local access to superb care for all types of gynecologic cancer. From risk assessment, screening and diagnosis, to today’s most advanced surgical procedures and opportunities to participate in leading-edge clinical trials—it’s all right here, in a comfortable, close-to-home setting.

What’s more, we offer an array of support services, including a dedicated nurse navigator to help guide you through every step of your cancer journey, from diagnosis through treatment and survivorship.

Our specialists see all types of gynecologic malignancies—cancer that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs—and complex benign gynecologic diseases. These conditions include:

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Vulvar cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD, a group of rare diseases in which abnormal cells grow inside the uterus after conception)
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids

Timely, accurate diagnosis is the critical first step in determining the most appropriate treatment. We offer today’s most sophisticated diagnostic resources, including advanced imaging technology and precise laboratory testing by pathologists with specific training in gynecologic cancers.

In addition, WCHN is one of only a few centers in the state to offer an important diagnostic procedure called sentinel lymph node dissection:

  • The pelvic sentinel nodes are the first place that certain gynecologic cancers are likely to spread (metastasize). Sentinel node dissection involves injecting a tracer material to locate the sentinel nodes during surgery; these few sentinel nodes are then removed and analyzed under a microscope. If they are cancer-free, then cancer is unlikely to have spread, and removing additional lymph nodes is unnecessary—reducing the risk of developing lymphedema (which is more likely to occur if many lymph nodes are removed from a single area).

Treatment for gynecologic cancer is tailored to the unique needs of each patient, and may include the following—either alone or in combination:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy (medications that fight cancer by activating or suppressing the immune system)
  • Targeted therapies (drugs that interfere with specific molecules involved in cancer cell growth
  • Participation in clinical trials that provide access to novel treatments not yet widely available

WCHN offers comprehensive surgical and non-surgical treatment of all types of benign and cancerous gynecologic disease. Our gynecologic oncology surgeons are experts in complex minimally invasive procedures and fertility-sparing surgery. Their advanced capabilities include:

  • Open, laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgery: With advances in surgical techniques and technology, we are able to perform 90% of surgical procedures using a minimally invasive approach. This translates into smaller incisions, faster healing and recovery, less pain and bleeding, and lower infection risk.

    When open surgery is required, our gynecologic oncologists are skilled in handling even the most complex cases, such as the removal of a 132-lb. ovarian tumor in early 2018.

  • HIPEC (hyperthermic intraoperative peritoneal chemotherapy): WCHN is one of only a handful of centers in Connecticut to offer this advanced procedure for treating ovarian cancer that has spread to the abdomen.

HIPEC delivers heated chemotherapy directly to the abdominal cavity; after removing visible tumors, HIPEC is administered to destroy any remaining microscopic cancer cells. Because it doesn’t circulate throughout the entire body like traditional chemotherapy, HIPEC allows for stronger treatment doses, and heating the solution helps improve absorption.

Gynecologic oncologists complete an obstetrics and gynecology residency, then a three- to four-year subspecialty gynecologic oncology fellowship focused on the latest surgical, chemotherapeutic, radiation and research techniques.

Western Connecticut Health Network’s board-certified gynecologic oncologists have undergone fellowship training and acquired experience at some of the nation’s most respected and well-known cancer centers. Learn more about their qualifications:

Another integral member of the gynecologic oncology team is Melissa Fairbairn, PA-C, a certified physician assistant who worked at the gynecologic oncology service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and helped manage the Ovarian Cancer Center of Excellence at Johns Hopkins before joining WCHN.

At WCHN, you benefit from the expertise of an entire team of specialists who work together to develop the best-possible treatment plan tailored to your individual needs and coordinate your care. While the gynecologic oncologist serves as the captain of your cancer care team, other members of the team may include:

  • Medical oncologist: WCHN’s medical oncologists are affiliated with the renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Radiation oncologist: Our radiation oncologists are also MSK-affiliated
  • Pathologist: Our disease-specific pathologists determine the exact type and stage of each patient’s cancer and work with other team members to recommend treatment strategies
  • Oncology nurse: These caring professionals prepare and administer treatments, provide supportive care, and help educate you and your family about your disease, treatment and side effects
  • Genetic counselor: To assess family members’ cancer risk and provide guidance on managing risk factors
  • Nurse navigator: Guides you through the healthcare system, identifies resources for financial aid, transportation or childcare, and coordinates your care with other team members

At WCHN, we care for the whole patient, not just her disease. That’s why we offer an array of support services to address the effects that cancer can have on a woman’s body, mind and spirit throughout diagnosis, treatment and beyond. These services include:

  • Nutritional counseling to help manage dietary and hydration needs related to cancer and its treatment
  • Oncology social workers who help people with cancer access practical assistance such as individual counseling, support groups, applying for Social Security disability and more
  • Lymphedema therapy to address this potential side effect of cancer treatment
  • Pelvic and sexual dysfunction therapy to address another potential side effect of gynecologic cancer and its treatment
  • Integrative medicine services including acupuncture, massage, reflexology, reiki, tai chi, and herbal and supplement consultation
  • A cancer survivorship program specifically for women who have had gynecologic cancers; it helps them cope with post-treatment issues, adjust to their new life and, most importantly, live well after cancer treatment

It all adds up to a truly patient-centered approach to cancer care that earns high marks from the women we are privileged to care for. Notably, Gynecologic Oncology was ranked #1 in patient satisfaction among all specialties in the entire Western Connecticut Health Network.

You don’t have to travel far to get the best of care. When it comes to treating gynecologic cancers, WCHN offers one of the most comprehensive and compassionate programs in the entire state. We’d be honored to care for you.

For more information, please call us at (203) 739-4900.