Should Gynecologists be Allowed to Treat Men?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Dr. Elizabeth Stier (photo: Boston Medical Center)

The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology has ordered all OB/GYN physicians in the United States to stop treating male patients, including those diagnosed with cancer.


First announced in September, the decision has sparked a heated debate within the medical profession, and threatened the continuation of numerous studies and clinical trials.


But the group has no intention of changing its position, according to Dr. Kenneth L. Noller, the board’s director of evaluation.


Another official, executive director Dr. Larry C. Gilstrap, told The New York Times that OB/GYNs need to get back to focusing on problems with women’s reproductive system, and allow other doctors to help men who have increasingly turned to gynecologists in recent years.


He explained that the board’s decision was prompted by a desire to counter the tarnishing of the OB/GYN specialty’s image “by members who had strayed into moneymaking sidelines, like testosterone therapy for men, and liposuction and other cosmetic procedures for both women and men,” wrote the Times’ Denise Grady.


Physicians who choose to ignore the board’s ruling face the risk of losing their certification, which would cripple their practice.


The decision also could hamper a $5.6-million clinical trial on anal cancer—funded by the National Cancer Institute and the Office of AIDS Research—because it will “keep some of the best qualified, most highly skilled doctors in the United States from treating male patients in the study,” Grady wrote.


Numerous specialists in the field were surprised and not pleased by the board’s decision—some saying they expect it to lead to major setbacks. One of them, Dr. Elizabeth Stier of the Boston Medical Center, is one of the study’s participants. The only doctor with this kind of specialized training at her hospital, she has been treating male patients for a decade and expected to sign up about 100 men for the cancer trial. Those men will have to be replaced with women.


Her bigger concern, though, is the male patients in her practice whom she will now have to abandon, many of whom are poor, from minority groups, and suffer from HIV. “I don’t think my patients are going to get the follow-up that they need, and I think they’re going to be lost to care, and we take care of a very vulnerable patient population,” she told the Times.


Anal cancer strikes about 7,000 Americans each year, killing nearly 900. But its incident rate has been going up, about 2.2% annually over the past decade.

- Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Gynecologists Run Afoul of Panel When Patient Is Male (by Denise Grady, New York Times)


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