When it comes to treating gynecologic cancers, Dr. Kathleen Yang knows that every patient’s situation is unique.

It’s estimated that approximately 100,000 cases of gynecologic cancers will be diagnosed this year in the United States. Dr. Yang and colleagues Drs. Audrey Garrett and Charles Anderson at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute in Eugene are the only gynecologic oncologists from Portland to Sacramento, along the I-5 corridor, so newly diagnosed patients travel from all over the region to see them. Depending on the complexities of the cancer, patients may also need to see other specialists during treatment.

“Cancer care is very complicated. Tailoring a treatment plan to a specific patient is an art,” Dr. Yang says.

Treating gynecologic cancer

Gynecological cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs. There are five major types:

  • Cervical
  • Uterine (endometrial)
  • Ovarian
  • Vaginal
  • Vulvar

“Treatment often involves surgery and sometimes radiation or chemotherapy. Sometimes, it involves all three of them and, therefore, coordinating care is crucial,” says Dr. Yang.

To streamline care coordination, the Oregon Cancer Alliance (OCA) was formed in 2010, creating a network of 13 physician groups in the Eugene-Springfield area.

“The whole idea of the OCA is to have it be an efficient process, from presentation to treatment plan,” says pathologist Dr. Denis McCarthy. “When someone has a really scary diagnosis of cancer, they need to have a coordinator who is kind of quarterbacking this whole team.”

Collaborating on behalf of patients

OCA’s gynecologic oncology team meets regularly in what’s known as tumor boards, which are currently being held virtually due to the pandemic. Led by a pathologist and radiologist and attended by gynecologic oncologists, radiation oncologists and other specialists, physicians discuss patient cases to create the best treatment plan. In addition, patient navigators help coordinate appointments for patients and connect them with resources when needed.

Gynecologic oncology patients also receive survivorship visits to help them manage symptoms, treat side effects and to provide additional support throughout treatment and recovery.

Physician assistant Linn Bergander says, “I want patients to know that they’re not alone in this. We are here to help, and these are areas that we should continue to discuss and assess at each visit.”

Oregon Cancer Alliance offers state-of-the-art treatments, including the latest technologies, targeted therapies, clinical trials and individualized plans.

“I think it’s important for patients to know that this collaboration exists,” says Dr. Emily Dunn, radiation oncologist. “We know that patients have better treatment because we work together, and we know it’s something that patients need in this community.”