Chasing the Cure

Renowned oncologist Saul Rivkin, M.D., reflects on a lifetime of research—and semi-retirement
Niki Stojnic  |   Seattle Health Fall/Winter 2013-2014   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
No rest for oncologist Saul Rivkin, M.D., who is moving to full time research at the Marsha Rivkin Center

Dr. Saul Rivkin is getting used to seeing his family around the breakfast table again. For more than 40 years, Rivkin had a plateful of work that made such family moments rare. He joined Swedish in 1971 as one of its first medical oncologists and has been repeatedly recognized for his pioneering research in breast cancer. He founded the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer in honor of his first wife, who died of the disease in 1993, and, with his five daughters, established the SummeRun & Walk for Ovarian Cancer to raise awareness and funding for research. In July, the tireless doctor retired from his post at Swedish to devote his time to the Rivkin Center. “I feel guilty that I’m not seeing patients anymore,” he says, but he looks forward to a renewed focus on research and down time with his second wife, Joyce, daughters and nine grandchildren.

You’re retiring from one post to devote more time to another—what’s next? I’m moving sideways to the Marsha Rivkin Center to do full-time ovarian cancer research. When we started 18–19 years ago, we were the only ones devoted to ovarian cancer. Two of my kids have the BRCA1/2 genes; [when the genes were discovered] there was more fear than facts. Knowledge is power; if you know what you have, you can take preventative steps.
What is the latest research being done on ovarian cancer? We are working on a urine screening test for ovarian cancer—there’s a 90 percent cure rate if we can find it early. Before, we had no animal model for ovarian cancer, but now we have a mouse model—that’s in the past four or five years. We’ve learned in the past several years that maybe 50 percent of tumors start in the fallopian tubes. [The Rivkin Center’s] genetic counselor says the number of people who called doubled because of Angelina Jolie. We gave $1 million out this year in grants to scientists all over the world to study ovarian cancer. We’re doing a pilot study on the Olaparib PARP inhibitor drug—it prevents cancer cells from repairing themselves for people with the BRCA1/2 genes.
What is your proudest achievement so far? Being happily married, with five daughters who all graduated college in four years—and they’re all married. [Professionally] I did one of the first adjuvant breast cancer therapy [used after primary treatment] studies in
the world.
What do you do to relax? I relax when I have a sense of accomplishment. Also, when I go home to be with my wife and grandkids; but ask me in a year how I’m relaxing! ✚