Dr. Ray Lin considers himself fortunate because he looks forward to going to work every day, where he makes a positive impact on people's lives.
Lin, 50, is a radiation oncologist with the Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center in the Torrey Pines area, and his job is to treat people with a variety of different types of cancer.
He finds his work rewarding because he is able to use the latest technology to treat his patients, and over the 20 years he has been in practice, he has seen significant improvements in patient outcomes. He also expects to see that progress continue.
"I just love what I do and the people I take care of, and I'm optimistic for the future," said Lin, who lives in Santaluz with his wife, Daphne, and the couple's two children.
While there are sad days at work, he said, there are also positive days when patients respond well to treatment. "I would say that most people we treat are cured," he said. Even in cases in which a cure is not possible, he said, treatment can slow the progress of the disease and also help with symptoms, giving patients more time and leading to a better quality of life.
Although Lin treats many different types of cancer with radiation, his focus is on breast and gynecological cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, and sarcomas, which are soft-tissue tumors.
Over the past three to four decades, said Lin, breast cancer survival rates have improved steadily, by about 1 percent per year, to the point that the five-year survival rate for all cases of breast cancer is 91 to 95 percent, and the five-year survival rate for early stage breast cancer is close to 99 percent.
Also, the mortality rate for rectal cancer has been cut in half over the past 30 to 40 years, he said.
"The advancements of technology have really driven the field," he said.
Those advancements have led to earlier diagnosis of cancer, as well as radiation beams that can target abnormal cancer cells with greater precision and less damage to surrounding healthy cells, said Lin. Researchers have also gained a greater understanding of the biology of tumor cells, which can lead to more effective, individualized treatment for cancer patients, and potentially to cancer prevention vaccines.
Lin said he was drawn to the field of radiation oncology because he is able to use state-of-the-art technology to treat his patients, and he also gets to know his patients well because they come in for daily radiation treatments.
"I love radiation oncology, it's one of the only fields where you can get to know patients very well... because they're here every day for four to six weeks," Lin said.
Lin, who along with treating patients serves as medical director of radiation oncology for Scripps Health, attended Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University in Illinois. He said he remembers a radiation oncologist coming to talk to one of his classes, and being impressed with her description of precise radiation beams that could be used to treat cancer instead of a surgeon's scalpel.
"I just found it really exciting," he said.
Outside of work, Lin enjoys traveling with family, and being involved with his son and daughter's sports and other activities. The family also attends Grace Point Church in Carmel Valley.
One way he knows his work is making a difference, he said, is that he still encounters people he treated for cancer 17 years ago when he first arrived at Scripps.
"We're doing better in cancer care," he said. ”I'm very grateful for the opportunity I have been given to do my job."