Gynecologic Cancer Basics

When abnormal cells multiply and grow out of control, it is called cancer. However, cancer is not a single disease- there are many different kinds of cancer. The types of cancer are named according to where cancer started in the body. For example, lung cancer starts in the lung, and breast cancer starts in the breast. Cancers that begin in a woman’s reproductive system or pelvic area are considered gynecologic cancers. Learning some general information can decrease the overwhelming sense of confusion that comes with a diagnosis of cancer for yourself or a loved one. Knowledge empowers us to ask better questions and make more informed decisions. Click on the term to learn more about Cervical Cancer,  Endometrial Cancer,  or Ovarian Cancer.

Within the specialized field of cancer care called oncology, Gynecologic Oncology is a subspecialty that focuses on caring for patients with these cancers. The content below can give you a broad introduction to terms and concepts you’ll likely encounter. You can also visit the Thompson Cancer Survival Center blog and follow Thompson on social media for more posts about gynecologic cancers and our team of cancer care experts.

Our Gynecologic Oncologists

Thompson Oncology Group’s board-certified gynecologic oncologists, Kenneth Cofer MD,  David Martin, MD, and Brook Saunders, MD, specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers located in or around the reproductive organs. The three most common forms of gynecologic cancers are cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancer. *Click on a physician’s name to learn more about his background and professional philosophy. 

What is a Gynecologic Oncologist?

Gynecologic Anatomy

A Gynecologic Oncologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of gynecologic cancers. Gynecologic cancers include:

  • cervical cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • uterine cancer
  • vaginal cancer
  • and vulva cancer.

Each of these has different symptoms, risk factors, and treatments. A gynecologic oncologist focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of these five main types of gynecologic cancer along with other gynecologic cancers that occur more rarely, such as fallopian tube cancer.

How are Gynecologic Oncologists different from other cancer specialists?

All oncologists receive specialized education and training in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Gynecologic oncologists have completed additional education, training, and certifications specifically focused on gynecologic cancers. Pursuing this sub-specialty of medicine can add up to more than 15 years of education and training through medical school, residency, and fellowship programs.

Gynecologic Oncologists are trained to deliver the best care for treating gynecologic cancers using surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation techniques as well as learning how to use research, manage symptoms, side effects, and survivorship.

Gynecologic Cancer Ribbon

How are gynecologic cancers treated?

Several factors impact the course of treatment for gynecologic cancers. Gynecologic oncologists are specifically prepared to evaluate the cancer with surgical staging. The staging information can greatly impact the course of therapy.

Depending on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer at diagnosis, any co-morbidities, and the general health of the patient, a comprehensive cancer care plan is developed. The gynecologic oncologist will work with a multidisciplinary team to create a treatment plan that aligns with the patient’s wishes. Gynecologic cancers can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or hormonal therapy. Experimental treatments may also be considered as part of a clinical trial treatment protocol if the patient is enrolled in a study.

When should you see a gynecologic oncologist?

Usually, a woman is referred to see a gynecologic oncologist if she is diagnosed with cancer of the reproductive system or if she has had abnormal screening exams or precancerous cells have been identified by her general gynecologist.

If a woman is told she has a precancerous or cancerous diagnosis, she can ask to be referred to see a gynecologic oncologist for further evaluation and treatment.

How can I make an appointment?

To request an appointment with one of the Thompson Oncology Group gynecologic oncologists, ask your physician to send a referral to fax (865) 374-2083, or speak with a member of the New Patient Access team by calling (865) 331-2060.


Cervical Cancer 

Cervical cancer is defined as cancer of the cervix, which is the lower, narrow part of the uterus.  According to the American Cancer Society, more than 12,800 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year. But, death rates have dramatically declined over the past several years as more women get screened. To prevent cervical cancer,   get screened regularly by your gynecologist and get the HPV vaccine. Here are some helpful links and resources about cervical cancer:

Endometrial Cancer 

Endometrial cancer, or cancer of the lining of the uterus, is the most common form of uterine cancer. Each year, more than 56,000 women will be diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer usually occurs in women who have already gone through menopause, but is highly curable if found early. Here are some helpful links and resources about endometrial cancer: 

Ovarian Cancer 

Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries. Each year, more than 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A woman’s lifetime risk for developing ovarian cancer is about 1 in 75. Ovarian cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it has spread outside of the ovary, so it is important to see your gynecologist for a pelvic exam and pap smear regularly. Here are some helpful links and resources about ovarian cancer: 

One of the best ways to prevent or diagnose cancer in its earliest stages is to get a pelvic exam and pap test regularly. For more information on gynecologic oncology, visit our free online Health Information Library