How long is it safe to delay gynecologic cancer surgery?


Lower genital tract cancers

Dr. Emma C. Rossi, assistant professor in the division of gynecologic oncology at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Dr. Emma C. Rossi

Surgery for patients with lower genital tract cancers – such as cervical and vulvar cancer – also can probably be safely delayed for a 4-week period, and possibly longer. A Canadian retrospective study looked collectively at cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers evaluating for disease progression associated with delay to surgery, using 28 days as a benchmark for delayed surgery.5 They found no significant increased progression associated with surgical delay greater than 28 days. This study evaluated progression of cancer and did not measure cancer survival, although it is unlikely we would see impaired survival without a significant increase in disease progression.

We also can look to outcomes from delayed radical hysterectomy for stage I cervical cancer in pregnancy to provided us with some data. A retrospective cohort study observed no difference in survival when 28 women with early-stage cervical cancer who were diagnosed in pregnancy (average wait time 20 weeks from diagnosis to treatment) were compared with the outcomes of 52 matched nonpregnant control patients (average wait time 8 weeks). Their survival was 89% versus 94% respectively (P = .08).6


Synthesizing this data, it appears that, in an environment of competing needs and resources, it is reasonable and safe to delay surgery for patients with gynecologic cancers for 4-6 weeks and potentially longer. This includes patients with high-grade endometrial cancers. Clearly, these decisions should be individualized to patients and different health systems. For example, a patient who presents with a cancer-associated life-threatening bowel obstruction or hemorrhage may need an immediate intervention, and communities minimally affected by the coronavirus pandemic may have more allowances for surgery. With respect to patient anxiety, most patients with cancer are keen to have surgery promptly, and breaking the news to them that their surgery may be delayed because of institutional and public health needs will be difficult. However, the data support that this is likely safe.

Dr. Rossi is assistant professor in the division of gynecologic oncology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She had no relevant financial disclosures. Email Dr. Rossi at [email protected].


1. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2017;216(3):268 e1-68 e18.

2. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 2020;246:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2020.01.004.

3. N Engl J Med 2010;363(10):943-53.

4. Lancet 2015;386(9990):249-57.

5. J Obstet Gynaecol Can 2015;37(4):338-44.

6. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2017;216(3):276 e1-76 e6. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2016.10.034.

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