John Curtin Elected President of Society of Gynecologic Oncologists

Fran Lowry

March 29, 2011

March 29, 2011 — John Curtin, MD, professor and director of the division of gynecologic oncology, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, in New York City, has been elected the 43rd president of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists (SGO).

Dr. Curtin, who also serves as associate director for academic affairs and education at the NYU Cancer Institute, assumes the leadership of the SGO at a time of transition and challenge.

Stephanie V. Blank, MD, from the Women's Cancer Program at the NYU School of Medicine, told Medscape Medical News that she is enthusiastic about Dr. Curtin's presidency.

"I can't wait to see just where he leads our society as we move forward in a changing healthcare climate. John is a leader for times like these — level headed, visionary, and tough."

Continuity of Care

Dr. John Curtin

In an interview with Medscape Medical News, Dr. Curtin recalled how he chose to specialize in gynecologic oncology.

"I picked the Ob/Gyn field because it gave me a lot of different opportunities to work with patients, both surgically and medically. In gynecologic oncology, we provide surgical treatment and we also provide the chemotherapy and manage our patients, as needed, right through to end-of-life care. It's the ability to care for the patient throughout the whole course of her disease that I find especially gratifying," he said.

"We all hope that patients have positive outcomes and get over the effects of their treatments and return to normal life, but we know that doesn't always happen, so it's also important to stay with the patient and manage any other complications that may arise."

Dr. Curtin, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, obtained his medical degree at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. After working for a while as a family practitioner, he decided to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, and then later opted to do further training in gynecologic oncology.

This entailed a fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He originally intended to stay only 2 years — the duration of his fellowship — but has been in New York ever since.

"That was 25 years ago. I met my wife while I was doing my fellowship; she's a native New Yorker. In fact, her family still lives in Bayside, Queens. That probably has a bit to do with why I stayed. I enjoy visiting out in the Midwest, but I feel like this is my home now," he told Medscape Medical News.

Biggest Challenge

Dr. Curtin says the biggest challenge facing the SGO, and the field of gynecologic oncology in general, is the increasing scarcity of research funding.

"We are very worried about what is going on in the research world," he said. "It's not a matter of how much the research budget is going to be cut, it's more a matter of trying to minimize the cuts in the areas of research that we are interested in, such as ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer."

At the SGO's annual meeting, held earlier this month in Orlando, Florida, members expressed concern that research grants that would have been funded by the federal government in previous years are no longer being funded because of limited resources.

Cuts to research funding tend to have a ripple effect, Dr. Curtin said.

"Sometimes, institutions will match money from federal research grants. If you lose some of those or they are downsized . . . it becomes a bigger problem to fund that research. So we are very concerned about that."

Dr. Curtin also believes that the different cancer organizations might be better served if they adopted a more united front when it comes to soliciting funding for their respective research efforts.

My view is that we should all push together.

"I was in a room with somebody who sat on a committee for the American Society of Hematology and another person who was on the government relations committee for [the American Society of Clinical Oncology], and I personally am not certain that each disease group needs to lobby for their specific disease," he said.

"My view is that we should all push together and say that it is extremely important to continue to fund medical research. Any cuts to the budget — not just to ovarian cancer research but any cancer — is going to have a bad impact on research and eventually will have a direct impact on our patients."

Small Name Change Makes Big Difference

When the SGO was formed in the early 1970s, it was just for members of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) who had taken additional training as gynecologic oncologists and were board certified in the subspecialty by the ACOG.

Now the SGO wants to open membership up to other physicians whose practice largely focuses on women with gynecologic cancers, such as medical oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, and pathologists. "We don't want to be viewed as a subspecialty-only society, but rather a society that's interested in promoting research and improvement in care for women with gynecologic cancers," said Dr. Curtin.

To this end, the SGO has just approved a name change.

"We were previously the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, which is a specific subspecialization of medicine. This year we changed it to the Society of Gynecologic Oncology," he said. "Eliminating that 'ist' goes along with our recent expansion of membership."

Issue of Pharma Support

The SGO is also coming to grips with the issue of pharmaceutical support for things like the annual meeting at a time when resources are limited.

"We are committed to making sure that we maintain a transparent and open accounting of conflict of interest. We can grant our own continuing medical education credits, but we are also cognizant that, like many other societies, the support of the meetings by pharmaceutical companies is diminishing at a time when there are limited resources. [Our] challenge is to make sure we still provide an excellent meeting for our members and that we do that in a transparent way so that if there is conflict of interest, it is identified," Dr. Curtin said.

Full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is definitely a positive trend, he added.

"We want to be able to present data and not have any question about their validity or whether or not they are influenced by outside interests, as uncommon as I think this is," he said. "We just don't want any perception of that. We want our members to understand that."

This is also important for patients, he added. "We want our patients to have confidence in the fact that we're presenting the best data on the best evidence-based way to treat them and that our research is as free from influence as it can be."


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.