The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology said Tuesday that its members could treat male patients for sexually transmitted infections and screen them for anal cancer, The New York Times reports.
The announcement is a change to restrictions issued in September, which said gynecologists could lose their board certification if they treated male patients.
The original rule was to keep gynecology as a female specialty and limit non-gynecological work by the board’s members.
However, the restrictions did not allow gynecologists to screen men who were at high risk for anal cancer, leaving many trying to find other specialists to treat their male patients.
But Dr. Kenneth L. Noller, the board’s director of evaluation, said board members had reconsidered and realized that gynecologists had a long tradition of treating sexually transmitted infections in both men and women, and that HPV and problems related to the virus fell into that category.
In addition, he said, the board recognized the importance of an upcoming study on anal cancer, funded by the federal government, and did not want to interfere with it. And board members said that they did not want to “disturb the doctor-patient relationship.”
Dr. Elizabeth Stier, a gynecologist at Boston Medical Center who had been forced to drop male patients who had been in her care for years, said she was happy and relieved to hear that the board had changed its mind. “Having canceled all the men out of my clinic, I now have to un-cancel them,” Stier said. “They’ll be very happy.”
Dr. Mark H. Einstein, a gynecologic oncologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, who had also been compelled to stop treating male patients, said: “Cool heads have prevailed. This is the best decision for our patients.”
Though most of Stier’s patients are women, she also took care of about 110 men last year who were at high risk for anal cancer. Like cervical cancer, anal cancer is usually caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is sexually transmitted. This type of cancer is rare, but its incidence is increasing, especially among men and women infected with HIV.
Screening tests for anal cancer involve techniques adapted from those used to screen women for cervical cancer. Stier will be involved in the federally funded study of men and women, aimed at finding out whether screening and treating precancerous growths can prevent the cancer.