In Practice: Steven Seung, M.D., Ph.D.

Steven Seung

Providence profiles Steven K. Seung, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncologist and director of Gamma Knife Center of Oregon.

Clinical focus
Gamma Knife and stereotactic body radiotherapy for melanoma; brain tumors; and lung, esophageal, and head and neck cancers

Published in more than 18 peer-reviewed journals; named “top doctor” for cancer by Portland Monthly magazine and Castle Connolly Medical; inducted as American College of Radiology fellow

Past lives
Doctoral degrees from University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine; residency at University of California, San Francisco

What breakthroughs have occurred in radiation therapy during the past 10 years?
For years Gamma Knife has been the gold standard for stereotactic radiotherapy to treat brain tumors, but now radiosurgery is being used successfully for extra-cranial disease. Stereotactic body radiotherapy, or SBRT, has dramatically changed how we approach early-stage lung cancers and oligometastatic conditions. The latest exciting trend is to combine ablative radiation therapy via SBRT with immunotherapies.

How many patients does Gamma Knife Center treat?
We've treated more than 1,900 patients since the center opened in 2001. The SBRT program, which began when Providence Cancer Center opened in 2008, has treated more 350 patients.

What makes a good candidate for these treatments?
The selection criteria involve the size of the tumor, its location, the patient's performance status and the state of extra-cranial disease. Each case is evaluated on its own merit.

What career would you have pursued if not medicine?
I might have been a soldier or lawman. I am the only male in my family who never served in the military. In retrospect I sometimes wonder, “what if?” Having two Navy SEALs and a Navy nuclear engineer in the family, I'm humbled by their sacrifice and service to our country.

Do you have a hidden talent?
I have no talent, but I am known to sing to my patients during their Gamma Knife treatments. Since their heads are bolted down to the table, I have a captive audience. Also, during the Vietnam War I entertained Korean soldiers as part of a Korean folk dance troupe. I don't dance on stage anymore (a good thing), but I have been known to do the Gangnam Style dance at work.

What book changed your life?
The Bible. There is no other book that has influenced history as much and no other book that can transform a person as much.

What about you would surprise people?
I can appear gregarious, but I'm an introvert who prefers to be alone or with my family. I don't like social situations, and parties drain me so it helps if they serve good pinot noir.

What's your medical philosophy?
I pray every morning for the wisdom to do the right thing for each patient. I often joke that God heals; I just collect the bill. But I believe that as health care providers, our skills are a gift. I can't take all the credit when my patients do well.