Trailblazers in Gynecologic Oncology: Spotlight on LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology

More than 100,000 women are affected by and 30,000 women lose their lives to gynecologic cancer each year. Gynecologic cancer includes all parts of the female reproductive system (the cervix, uterus, ovaries, vagina, and vulva). 

In Louisiana, the age-adjusted incidence rate (which compares rates among populations with varying age distributions) of many cancers, including cervical cancer, is higher compared to the rest of the country. 

At LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center, the Division of Gynecologic Oncology is on a mission to change these statistics. From clinical trials to patient care to community outreach, they’re making waves in cancer research and cancer care in Louisiana and globally.

The Division of Gynecologic Oncology at LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center

Dr. Amelia Jernigan, Director of Gynecologic Oncology at LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center and Medical Director of Cancer Services at University Medical Center, takes enormous pride in the work her team accomplishes daily. “We've managed to set a standard in terms of what a cohesive team built around a cancerous disease site can look like,” she explains. 

The gynecologic oncology team includes many roles, all of which are crucial to its accomplishments. According to Dr. Tara Castellano, Assistant Professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Faculty Physician in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, “The success of our team relies upon not just the physicians but our amazing physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurse navigators, medical assistants, surgery staff, resident physicians, research nurses, coordinators, and regulatory personnel.” 

Though vast, this department is cohesive, partly because it provides all cancer services in one medical home. 

“Our role as gynecologic oncologists is unique because of our ability to provide care to our patients from work-up and diagnosis to surgery. We also prescribe cancer treatments, including chemotherapies and cutting-edge targeted therapies. Also, we provide and coordinate complex oncologic care, including radiation, pain management, palliative, and end-of-life care,” explains Dr. Castellano. 

That, along with extensive clinical trial offerings, means patients can access everything they need in the comfort of a health system they trust. “We’ve built the team around that and made a patient experience that is quicker, more timely, and more innovative,” says Dr. Jernigan. “It’s raised the bar for gynecologic cancer care in the region.”

Advancing Cancer Research Through Clinical Trials 

At LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center, dedicated and talented researchers in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology are deeply invested in advancing cancer research, including through clinical trials

Clinical trials help researchers discover new, more effective ways to prevent, detect, and treat cancer. They’re the reason current therapies exist and are actively saving lives. “​​We’ve opened several clinical trials, and we enroll pretty heavily into them,” Dr. Jernigan explains. 

While there are a range of clinical trials available at any given time, the gynecologic oncology team is constantly adjusting to the needs of patients in Louisiana through a program called PENTAGON, which stands for PrEdictiNg Trial Access in Gynecologic Oncology. According to Dr. Jernigan, the PENTAGON program is a way of predicting the needs of current patients. 

“We measure every patient that comes through with a new diagnosis or a change in therapy. Whether that's a progression of disease or a switch in therapy, we actively screen them for trials,” Dr. Jernigan explains. “If we don't have a trial available, we register that. When we start seeing a pattern where we don't have a trial, we know we need to get a trial to match our patients.” 
Through this project, the Division of Gynecologic Oncology has increased clinical trial enrollments among their cancer patients and now enrolls nearly 30% of their cancer patients on trial — a metric which far exceeds expectations. Not only does this mean more data is collected to contribute to cancer research, but also that local patients have more access to tomorrow’s groundbreaking and life-saving treatments. 

Reducing Health Disparities and Providing High-Quality Cancer Care in Louisiana  

Quality cancer care close to home isn’t an option for everyone in the US. In fact, the US has some of the biggest geographical health disparities (differences in health outcomes in different locations across the country) in the world. 

The LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center Division of Gynecologic Oncology is committed to addressing these disparities by ensuring patients in Louisiana don’t have to travel far for the care they need. 

The most notable benefit is having nearby clinical trials for all kinds of patients. “We know that when patients do participate in cancer trials, they have better outcomes,” says Dr. Jernigan. For a patient population that is disproportionately affected by cancer, this can be a significant factor in addressing health disparities.”

The range of clinical trials offered is extensive, many of which are leading studies in the country. For many of those clinical trials, LCMC Health is now a leading enrollment site. For instance, there’s a study examining the effect of social support on Black women with endometrial cancer (called the SISTER Study) and one involving minimally-invasive radical hysterectomies for cervical cancer (called the ROCC trial). 

According to Dr. Castellano, “As the head of the Gulf South underserved NCORP site, we work with many interfacing cooperative groups under the umbrella of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to bring practice-changing clinical trials to cancer patients in South Louisiana.” 

Of course, if there isn’t a trial to meet the needs of the patient population in Louisiana, the gynecologic oncology team will make sure they find one through the PENTAGON program. 

A strong clinical trial program also means incredibly rigorous standards. Everything from the preparation to the procedures themselves to patient monitoring must meet certain criteria. “It's an extra layer of cheese in the Swiss cheese model that protects people from falling through the holes,” says Dr. Jernigan. 

That preparation extends beyond the clinical side to patients. “Patients get counseled as to what to expect down the line,” Dr. Jernigan explains. This can offset anxieties, concerns, and questions throughout the process. 

Finally, clinical trials allow patients to contribute to cancer research and save other people’s lives. “Patients enjoy being part of the progress,” she says. “I think people like putting something good out into the universe.” 

In Louisiana, this might be even more fitting. As Dr. Jernigan says, “People in Louisiana love helping their neighbors.”

LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center Gynecologic Oncology: World-Class Cancer Care At Home  

Choosing where to go for cancer care is a major decision. At LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center, the Division of Gynecologic Oncology provides excellent cancer care close to where you work, live, and spend your time. This means you face fewer disruptions while still having access to the care you need and deserve. 

The gynecologic oncology team is also committed to giving Louisianians a voice in their care. “We do a lot of community outreach. We want our patients to be involved in the process,” explains Dr. Jernigan. “We want to know what is important to them so that we can design our trials and our trials program to reflect what they think is important — not just what we think is important.” 

According to Dr. Castellano, “We are not only invested in our community but fully participate through advocacy, education, and community engagement.”

Your home for cancer cancer is exactly that — yours. The LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center Division of Gynecologic Oncology makes you and your loved ones the center of cancer research in your home state of Louisiana. 

CALL TO ACTION/COMMENT/SHARE: Do you have questions about gynecologic oncology at LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center? Contact us to learn about patient care, membership, and how to get involved. 


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