Cancer Stories

Important updates to bill pay.
Learn more

Headshot of Dr. William Irvin

William Irvin, M.D., was a graduate student at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business when he unexpectedly lost his 59-year-old father, a Norfolk obstetrician and gynecologist. “I was walking near my home the day after he died, trying to get my thoughts together,” Dr. Irvin recalls. “I saw two little children playing out in the yard and stopped for a second. Their mother recognized me and said, ‘Your father delivered both of those children.’ It just dawned on me that through the field of medicine, you can make contributions that live on after you’re gone. Medicine is a unique way to directly impact the quality of other people’s lives, and I think the primary goal in our lives should be to make the world a better place.”

Inspired by this life-altering realization, Dr. Irvin left business school to complete pre-med courses. He went on to graduate from UVA’s School of Medicine in 1989, remaining there to complete an obstetrics and gynecology residency in 1993. In the meantime, he departed slightly from his father’s footsteps, developing a special interest in the subspecialty of gynecologic oncology — and pursuing that interest through fellowship training at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. Upon completion, he returned to Charlottesville to practice and teach at UVA from 1997 to 2006.

During his last two years at UVA, Dr. Irvin was recruited by Riverside Health System in an effort to bring a much-needed gynecologic oncology program to the area. He practiced in Newport News two days a week for two years and, as the demand for his services quickly became evident, Riverside asked him to develop the program as a full-time director in 2006.

“It’s grown very quickly,” Dr. Irvin says. “We have done our best to not just have a gynecologic oncology program, but to truly have a comprehensive gynecologic oncology program of excellence. What I’m most proud of is that we’ve been able to maintain cutting-edge therapies based upon evidence-based data and randomized prospective clinical trials, enabling us to provide the most current and up-to-date care and management of women with all forms of gynecologic cancers.”

For example, Riverside’s treatment offerings for ovarian cancer include UVA chemotherapy, dose-dense intravenous chemotherapy and — most recently — heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy. Access to clinical trials is also available. Surgical offerings include not only radical pelvic resection of disease, but also extensive intraperitoneal in the upper abdomen. The latter involves complicated surgeries offered by very few institutions, but Dr. Irvin has the expertise to surgically debulking more than 90 percent of his patients to zero remaining evidence of ovarian cancer, which is critical to their long-term survival. “It’s up to us to enable patients to have that level of cytoreduce, from the floor of the pelvis to the top of the diaphragm, for maximal tumor resection and debulking,” he says.

Mother-daughter cancer survivors

One family, two lives saved

Read more about this mother-daughter journey

Advanced care for cervical, cytoreduction and vulvar cancer — the most common of all — includes use of the endometrial Vinci robotic-assisted surgical system for da and minimally invasive surgery, preferred for its faster recovery times, shorter hospital stays, less postoperative discomfort and better cosmetic outcomes. Cutting-edge radiation oncology for gynecologic patients includes conventional radiation therapy, high-dose rate laparoscopic, intensity-modulated radiation therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery.

Dr. Irvin loves his job on many levels. “I derive great satisfaction from being able to cure disease and enable people to live a normal life with their children and grandchildren — and experience the life events that we all want to experience before we leave this world,” he says. “The nice thing about GYN oncology is that you follow patients for several years, so you get to know them and become a part of their lives. I find that very rewarding.” He also enjoys the challenge of surgical procedures. “They never get easier,” Dr. Irvin says as he reflects on a seven-hour surgery the previous night, in which he removed all visible disease from a 36-year-old with advanced-stage cervical cancer.

During those surgeries and clinic visits, there is yet another aspect that has brought Dr. Irvin just as much fulfillment since the beginning of his career — that is, the care of OB/GYN residents. He routinely works with residents from Riverside’s program. “It is always satisfying to see young residents learn and grow, become good surgeons and learn to manage complicated patients in the clinic through our interaction — and really become excited about GYN oncology,” he says. Dr. Irvin also serves as a clinical instructor for Eastern Virginia Medical School and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.

As Riverside’s only gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Irvin’s vision for the future is to expand the program, an effort already underway with the recruitment of an additional fellowship-trained, board-eligible gynecologic oncologist and the recent hiring of a gynecologic nurse practitioner and a nurse navigator. “I think that what makes Riverside unique is that we offer a comprehensive gynecologic cancer care program for women, from the beginning of the diagnosis to the completion of therapy,” Dr. Irvin says. “We’ve made sure we have the most advanced, current therapies available in terms of surgical management, chemotherapeutic management and radiation oncology, in conjunction with a high level of hospital care to ensure safety and avoid complications. All of these components enable us to tailor the patient’s care so that we don’t use the one-size-fits-all mentality, but rather provide individualized care to each patient on the basis of their specific needs."

Click here to learn more about Dr. Irvin