Neuro-oncologist guides patients through brain cancer diagnosis, treatments

August 15, 2018 Providence Health Team

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Ricky Chen, M.D., sees people when their worlds have been knocked off their axes. It’s his role to help restore their balance.

He is Providence’s premier neuro-oncologist, the specialist you’ll see if you learn you have a brain tumor or a brain cancer. He may even be the one who gives you the news. He knows it’s a terribly disorienting diagnosis.

“When patients get diagnosed, they are often shocked and feel overwhelmed,” says Dr. Chen, who leads the Providence Cancer Institute’s neuro-oncology practice. “I focus on my patients not as statistics of a disease but as individuals, who are important members of their communities, who have fears and hopes like all of us. One of our highest priorities is to remove the chaos around a diagnosis and help people find the way forward to the best treatments with the best support.”

Evolving ways to manage brain cancer

Brain cancers may strike in many ways. Sometimes, they are primary malignancies in the nervous system, occurring in the brain of a person who is otherwise healthy.  Some of these are called malignant brain tumors, as they are limited to the central nervous system.  Sometimes, they are secondary, or metastatic cancers, spreading from a lung, a breast or other locations in a cancer patient’s body.

As a result, patients receive the diagnosis in very different stages of acceptance. For some, cancer is an entirely new word in their personal vocabularies. For others, brain cancer marks a continuing progression of an aggressive disease.

Also, primary cancers and secondary cancers are treated differently and frequently have very different prognoses. Dr. Chen works to help a patient and his family understand the options and begin to face the future.

At Providence, when the diagnosis is made, Dr. Chen and his board of specialists and experts discuss the case. Would the patient benefit from radiation? From surgery? From chemotherapy? From participating in a clinical trial? From a customized immunotherapy treatment? Or is observation all that is needed?

Providence treats a high volume of malignant brain tumors every year, says Dr. Chen, who guides patients from diagnosis through treatment and relapses. As a neuro-oncologist, he also manages many of the neurological issues that patients face including seizures, memory and vision changes, or speech problems. He explains any changes in the patient’s imaging and symptoms and recommends the best treatments.

Brain cancer is a dynamic sector of medicine, with new research and new treatments sparking new ideas for helping patients. Dr. Chen, who manages brain cancer cases exclusively, describes this area of study as “an active field of science.” Dr. Chen is a principal investigator of clinical trials, and he designs trials for new promising treatments. He aims to provide patients access to the latest therapies that may prove to become tomorrow’s cures.

 “At the end of every day, the most important thing is to do no harm, to make the patient better, not worse,” says Dr. Chen. Even with the worst brain tumors or cancers, good treatments can prolong the patient’s life, but equally important is safeguarding a good quality of life, he says. 

Even with those kinds of severe cases, says Dr. Chen, “There is still hope — hope in treatments, hope of living beyond the prognosis, and hope in research to ultimately find the cures that will reach more people and their families.”

People need to have hope. Without that, they stop fighting, he says.

Dr. Chen, then, strikes a delicate balance, offering support and resources for patients diagnosed with brain cancer, along with their families. He and his team also work to ease the patients’ way, overseeing lab work and treatment schedules. 

More resources

Read more insightful cancer articles in the cancer section of our blog.

The American Cancer Society provides statistics and information about brain cancer research and treatments.

You can find a Providence provider near you in our online directory, or visit: 

AK: Providence Cancer Center

OR: Providence Cancer Institute; Providence Cancer Center Oncology and Hematology Care Clinics; Providence Brain Tumor Center

CA: Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center; John Wayne Cancer Institute

WA: Providence Regional Cancer System; Providence Regional Cancer Center – SpokaneSwedish Cancer Institute; Kadlec Oncology Program; Pacific Medical Centers; Providence Regional Cancer Center

MT: Montana Cancer Center at Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Medical Center

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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