Making sure patients, physicians know about the advances in treating female cancers

Rapid medical advances are improving the odds significantly for ovarian, uterine, cervical, endometrial and other cancers in the reproductive organs.

Lynn Parker, M.D., gynecologic oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute, is on a mission. She’s doing whatever she can to spread the word: There’s a lot that can be done to prevent and treat female cancers.

“What drives me is we can cure people; we can help people. What drives me every day is to see patients do well,” said Dr. Parker, who trained at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Rapid medical advances are improving the odds significantly for ovarian, uterine, cervical, endometrial and other cancers in the reproductive organs. Unfortunately, even some physicians may not know about many of the new treatments, according to Dr. Parker.

“We can be very successful,” she said. “It’s just a matter of making sure people are aware of the options they have and that our specialty exists. It’s a really exciting time in gynecologic oncology. I don’t want people to get misinformation that there’s not something that can be done to help them when there is.”

Getting the news to patients and primary care doctors alike

To that end, Dr. Parker is on the Communications Committee of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, an international professional organization.

“We try to get the word out, either through social media or websites,” Dr. Parker said. “To me it’s not only about getting the word to the patients but to the primary care doctors.”

Dr. Parker recalled a patient who was told by her doctor to go home and get her affairs in order because nothing could be done. Dr. Parker saw the patient and started treatment.

“She lived another six years. She had six years with her kids that she otherwise would not have had,” Dr. Parker said.

As a gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Parker performs surgery and sees patients in the office.

Combining a love of science and caregiving

Dr. Parker grew up in a small town in southern Illinois, the daughter of a dentist. Her grandparents lived close by, and she helped care for her grandfather, who had rapidly progressing rheumatoid arthritis.

“I loved science. I loved caregiving. That was a way I could make an impact and help people,” she said.

Dr. Parker completed a combined six-year undergraduate and medical degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City before doing her medical residency at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City. She then completed a fellowship in gynecology/oncology at MD Anderson.

Dr. Parker is passionate about keeping up with research and what the latest treatments can do for patients.

“I have patients, in the old days, we would say you have nine to 12 months to live. Now I give them a new chemotherapy combination and the tumor goes away. To me that’s very exciting,” she said.

Norton Cancer Institute

With more than 100 specialists at locations around Louisville and Southern Indiana, Norton Cancer Institute is the area’s leading provider of cancer care.

(502) 629-HOPE (4673)

Applying rapid advancements in treatment

Other new treatments include immunotherapy, which uses a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer; PARP inhibitors, which kill cancer cells by stopping them from repairing themselves; and so-called VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor)

drugs like bevacizumab, which starve tumors by preventing them from forming new blood vessels.

Research also has shown that most cancers that were once thought to arise in the ovary have their origin in the fallopian tubes, according to Dr. Parker. That means cancers potentially can be prevented. For example, if a woman is having a hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer, the fallopian tubes also can be removed.

Genetic testing also is improving, which will help pinpoint which women are most at risk.

“Now we can do very significant profile testing and potentially protect women from ever getting cancer,” Dr. Parker said. “I would love to go out of business for that reason.”

Even with an eye on the latest research, Dr. Parker never loses sight of her patients.

“My patients are amazing people,” Dr. Parker said. “I’m very proud my patients feel at home when they come see us. So much of that is lost in modern medicine. To me it’s about making patients feel like they’re part of a team, part of a family.

“Cancer is so overwhelming you want to know they can always reach you to talk to you. They can ask us all the questions they want. If I don’t know the answer, I will find someone who does.”

In medical school, Dr. Parker met her husband, John Parker, M.D., a neuropathologist who teaches medical students and neurosurgery residents at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Together, they have a teenage daughter. In her free time, Dr. Lynn Parker likes spending time with her family and spending time outdoors.

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