Hsin Kwung Li

Radiation or chemotherapy? New radiation oncologist at MVHS talks about difference and says “one day cancer will be a chronic disease”

By Barbara Pierce

Q: What is radiation therapy?
A: Radiation therapy is the use of high energy X-rays, generated by a machine and deposited in a tumor cell. It damages the DNA to keep cancer cells from growing, and causes the tumor to die. Many folks, unless they’ve been diagnosed with cancer or had a family member diagnosed, may not know much about radiation. They hear the term ‘radiation,’ it’s scary; the things they’ve heard are scary. But there are always two sides to any story: radiology can be extremely beneficial. It can target the tumor; can sculpt the radiation to the tumor.

Q: How does radiation therapy differ from chemotherapy?
A: Radiation is local. It treats just where the tumor is and where it may travel to. Chemotherapy treats the whole body for cancer that may have spread. Radiation is aimed at and affects only the part of the body needing treatment. Chemotherapy exposes the whole body to cancer fighting drugs. Both types of therapy have side effects; each person experiences different side effects, depending on the type of cancer, its location, the radiation therapy dose, your general health and other factors. Early in the treatment planning process, we plan for how to manage the side effects you may have.

Q: How is the decision made about which therapy is best for each patient?
A: Our multi-disciplinary tumor board sits down regularly each Tuesday, to talk through and decide the best treatment course for each patient, whether surgery, chemo, radiation or another option. It’s not me that’s responsible. It’s all of our staff. I couldn’t do it without the team.

Q: Is the outlook for cancer better now? Are more patients surviving?
A: We’ve come so far. The survival rate in the past two decades has made significant strides. We have better surgical techniques, better chemotherapy, better radiation; there have been advances in each area. One day cancer will be a chronic disease.

Q: What led to your decision to become a physician specializing in treatment for cancer?
A: I’m local, from Albany, born and raised in Albany. I thought I wanted to be a pharmacist, so I began graduate school to become a pharmacist. Halfway through school, I was involved in medical school as part of my training. During this experience, through introduction and shadowing experiences, I got to experience the medical profession. That was when I realized I wanted to be a physician, not a pharmacist.

Q: What are the rewards of working as a radiation therapist?
A: I like the patient care. I like both the patients and the technology that is involved a great deal. I’m able to make this treatment a meaningful thing for the individual who is going through such a difficult time in his life. This is one or the really great fields to work in; radiology is a unique field. In treatment, patients are going through such a hard time. I can have a meaningful impact in their lives, from alleviating their pain to curing their cancer.

Q: What are the challenges of being a radiation therapist?
A: The challenge in radiation is that the folks I get to know are going through a tough time. And there’s not always a good outcome. It’s a great privilege and an honor to be a part of a patient’s life, entrusted by the patient and their family to help get them through this tough time.

Q: You are also an assistant professor of radiation oncology at SUNY. What do you feel it is most important for students in medical school to learn?
A: I believe that it’s most important for medical students to learn to provide good patient care. Book knowledge can always be gained, but they have to want to strive to provide good patient care.

Q: You’re new to the Mohawk Valley. What are your impressions of this area?
A: I continue to live in Syracuse and commute back and forth. I also spend time in Albany, where my parents live. I’m a very big “foodie;” I love hanging out in restaurants, and Utica has a great food scene.


Birth date: Late 1980s
Birthplace: Albany, NY
Current residence: Syracuse, NY
Education: Li earned his medical degree and performed his residency in radiation oncology at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. He previously earned his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Affiliations: Faxon St. Luke’s, MVHS. Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology, State University of New York Upstate Medical University.
Personal: Single, no children
Hobbies: Very big “foodie.” Loves hanging out in restaurants, enjoys Utica’s great food scene.

In the News

Physician Hsin Kwung Li recently has joined the Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) Cancer Center as a radiation oncologist, where he provides and directs radiation therapy treatments for cancer patients. Li has more than five years of experience in medicine, including the last four in radiation oncology. He specializes in X-ray guided radiation treatment of tumors in the body.
Li earned his medical degree and completed his residency in radiation oncology at SUNY Upstate in Syracuse. He previously earned his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, Pennsylvania.