Empower Yourself Through Education: 4 Crucial Questions to Ask After a Pelvic Mass Diagnosis

September 28, 2016

I’d venture to say few people enjoy going to the doctor’s office. It’s a place they often associate with illness, but it’s also a place where they expect to find answers and possibly relief. You trust your doctor to provide the right advice, especially when it comes to your gynecological health, and you expect him to properly manage treatment for your pelvic mass.


Yet, as a seasoned OB-GYN, I’ve seen patients who have experienced everything from missed ovarian cancer diagnoses to unneeded surgeries to mishandled operations. I empathize with these women, but more than that, I’ve made it my mission to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future through empowerment.


Women, it’s time to be active players in your gynecologic health, and the first step is making sure you ask your doctor the right questions.


There’s No Such Thing as ‘Too Many Questions’


When it comes to your health, you can never ask too many questions. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know which ones to ask. A pelvic mass is unknown territory for most women, and I understand how scary it can be. Before you jump to conclusions, let’s walk through the process of diagnosis, clarification, and management.


Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with a pelvic mass. Surgery seems to be the viable option, but you still know very little about your diagnosis and how it should be addressed. Here are four questions to ask your doctor:


1. What is your past experience? This is the initial (and arguably most important) question to ask your doctor upon diagnosis. Unfortunately, some physicians are not transparent about their previous experience, which is why it’s crucial to take ownership of the situation. Not all gynecologists will have extensive backgrounds in pelvic mass treatment, and keep in mind that many OB-GYNs are primarily obstetricians who don’t perform a lot of gynecologic surgery. Don’t be afraid to research your doctor if you feel that he is not being transparent about his experience.


2. What is your surgical specialty? If your pelvic mass is benign, this is an important question to keep in your back pocket. Surgical specialties matter because they influence the surgical approach. For instance, gynecologic oncologists (otherwise known as cancer doctors for women) are trained to approach surgery with vigor. If you have a benign mass, they may manage it more aggressively than necessary. For example, they may perform an open operation when a minimally invasive surgery would suffice.


3. Is entire removal necessary? Every pelvic mass treatment is different, so your doctor should not be approaching yours with an all-or-nothing mindset. If your surgeon suggests complete removal, quickly follow up with “Is that absolutely necessary?” — and don’t accept “yes” as a complete answer. This is especially important if your mass is benign. Malignant masses will need entire removal.


4. Are you the best fit? It’s common for women who have been with their OB-GYNs for childbirth and pap smears to trust them with pelvic mass treatment. Just because you’ve established a certain level of comfort with your doctor doesn’t mean he is the right person to treat your pelvic mass. But you can (and should) leverage your relationship to be candid with your questions and referral requests. After consulting with your physician, don’t be afraid to take your concerns to others for additional advice. Second and third opinions are a smart move and offer helpful reassurance.


After the Fact


Once you’ve asked your questions and followed through with treatment, it’s time for the next phase: the follow-up. I make a point to establish a relationship with my patients, and their healing process is just as important to me as the surgery itself.


During surgery, I take photos to show the patient afterward, making sure she fully understands why I made certain decisions in the operating room. At six weeks, I have her back in my office to discuss recovery and other concerns. Once the patient has reached the six-month mark, I see her again for another follow-up and ultrasound. I also request annual check-ins to ensure she’s on the proper road to recovery.


While it may seem like you’re searching for a needle in a haystack, asking the right questions, receiving referrals, and doing research is a surefire way to find the care and treatment your body deserves.

Michael Randell, MD is a leader in comprehensive women’s care.  For more than two decades, Dr. Randell has been providing patients with personalized care and service. He is on the Medical Staff at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital in the Department of Gynecology where he is a leading gynecologic surgeon specializing in minimally invasive and robotic surgery.