Dr. Nam-sun Paik – a Pioneer in Breast Conserving Surgery
SEOUL, KOREA – Cancer, the uncontrolled growth and proliferation of detrimental cells, is the leading cause of death worldwide. The WHO predicts that this will continue rising, with an estimated 13.1 million deaths in 2030. How can we overcome the most serious obstacle to good health and long life? Dr. Nam-sun Paik, who was selected as one of top 100 doctors for International Biographic Center(IBC) in England, recently issued ten rules to prevent cancer and live a healthy life: Eat three to six cloves of garlic. Perform moderate exercise regularly. Increase consumption of unrefined grains. Develop your personal stress management with pleasant and positive thinking. Eat large amounts of fish, vegetable and fruits. Enjoy singing and traveling. Drink a moderate amount of wine. Have only two cups of coffee, and supplement it with tea. Increase selenium intake, a trace mineral. Choose your spouse carefully.
‘Carpe diem’ popularly translated as ‘Seize the day’ is Dr. Paik’s favorite phrase, which means do your best now and here in his own interpretation. “A man who is successful always does his best at the present moment. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, but today is gift so we call today the present. Even if you have a math exam tomorrow, if you are in English class now, you should focus on the English subject rather than consuming your thoughts with tomorrow’s math exam. Life is a chain of moments. Accumulated moments make someone’s life. Do not worry about tomorrow. If you do your best now, you will make a success tomorrow,” emphasized Dr. Paik, a director of Ewha Womans University Cancer Center for Women, who also held a position as president of the Asian Breast Cancer Society.
As surgeries he performs usually make patients alive or dead, they involve great risk although subsequently rewarding. In order to loosen up and to maintain optimism in his life, he often elects to read a poem or sing a song. “Stress is the source of all kinds of diseases. Positive thinking and laughing can help preventing cancer, so it is essential to develop your own strategies for stress relief. Frequent singing can makes you happy and relax stress,” he told the IT Times in an interview. Affectionately known as the “singing doctor”, he softly sang some parts of his favorite song, Mona Lisa by Nat’ King Cole, with appreciation in his voice. Asked about his favorite poem, he mentioned Rainbow, written by William Wordsworth, and recited some parts of it by heart. “This is short but contains philosophy. A child grows old and became a father, but his interior still contains a child’s mind,” he explained, demonstrating his artistic sensibility.
First breast conserving surgeon in Asia
Doctor Paik was not only the first doctor to develop and perform breast conserving surgery for breast cancer in Korea, but also in Asia. Breast cancer, cancer disease where most past cases have occurred in developed countries, has been on the rise in Korea. Considering some researches of the causes including the westernization of diet, obesity, and low birth rate, the incidence of breast cancer is likely to increase in the future. Before he started the surgery, the breast cancer surgeon had to make incision however small in the breast. This caused him to feel sorrow as the woman lost some semblance of her beauty.
“I believe the breast is a symbol of woman, a symbol of beauty and a symbol of motherhood. With the development of medical treatment, even after having breast surgery, patients live long and well. Ten years of survival rate is about 90 percent. As I considered not only the long term survival, but also patient’s psychology and woman’s beauty, it led to the development of breast conserving surgery in 1986. Currently all breast surgeons accept this method and know the importance of it. I believe we should consider quality of life in cancer patients, especially breast cancer patients. Now I am very proud of what I have done.”
The annual average amount of breast cancer surgeries he has performed being over 300, the cancer recurrence rate of the breast conserving surgery is merely 2.5% and five year survival rate is about 90 percent. Stage III and IV of breast cancer were formerly difficult to operate, but he developed ‘combination therapy with drugs’ administering four types of drugs, which has subsequently shown a 90 percent cure rate. With his popularity, the number of inpatients has increased significantly since he became a director of the center. Patients from a multitude of countries including the U.S, the United Arab Emirates, European countries, Russia, Mongol, and China have visited the hospital with word of his expertise spreading.
In stomach cancer areas, Dr. Paik has developed his own surgical method called Paik’s Procedure, which was presented at the Asian Pacific Organization for Cancer Prevention in 1991. When patients attain cancer on the top or middle of stomach, doctors usually cut the stomach to connect throat and jejunum. In the past, many patients suffered reflux esophagitis because as the sphincter between stomach and throat was removed, intestine juices became upside down. Making parts of stomach the shape of a tube to reserve the sphincter, Paik’s Procedure minimized side effects, and subsequently, the quality of patient’s life was vastly improved.
Patient-friendly and C-SMART hospital
Dr. Paik has stressed C-SMART hospital since he became a director of Ewha Womans University Cancer Center in 2011. “The origin of the hospital is derived from the Latin word ‘hospitality’. Patients want to experience comfort and convenience so I encourage our doctors and nurses to establish a friendship with the patients. C for C-SMART is confidential, convenience, comfort, S should be scientific, M is management of patients, A is Alumni. Ehwa Womans University has more than 200,000 alumni and we can unite them, making a great power, R means research. As we belong to a university hospital, we should consider research as well. T is technology. New technology should be considered in the development of new treatment methods.
Recently, the center introduced high tech treatment equipment including a 128 Channel PET-CT, Da Vinci surgical system, Trilogy cancer care system, and Dual Flash, improving accuracy of cancer diagnosis and treatment. The hospital has also adopted Intra-Operative Radiation Therapy which reduces the radiation treatment period of two months to either one session of radiation treatment during surgery, or to at least two weeks, minimizing cancer patients’ time in recovery, financial, and psychological burden.
“There are so many cancer centers in Seoul, but Ehwa Womans University Cancer Center is the only one exclusively for woman, and I am very proud of it.” The center looks and feels more like a hotel, aiming to become a more women friendly center and provide a relaxed atmosphere. This is done by setting up a checkup center exclusively for women where patients who are diagnosed with cancer are handed over to Ehwa Womans University cancer center to receive treatment through the ‘priority treatment system’. If patients visit our hospital, for example, initially, we will check patients with radiological method and confirm it with frozen biopsy if cancer is suspected. Three or four hours later we can get the result as to whether this is cancer or just a benign tumor. If cancer is confirmed, patients pay only five percent of costs and 95% will be reimbursed by national medical insurance. We have a very fast, confidential and convenient system,” he explained
Moving towards Glocal(Global + Local) hospital
Since the inauguration, he also stressed ‘Glocal (Global + Local)’ of the hospital to share the excellence of Korean medical treatment with other countries. As part of the effort to extend the experience, the center signed a MOU with various organizations abroad including "HOPE" Cancer-Free Mongolia National Foundation, Wellness Center of Massimov at Kazakhstan, and the Embassy of Vietnam in Korea. Last year, he visited Mongolia with other doctors to volunteer medical service and to perform cancer surgery, invited by the first lady of Mongolia, H.Bolormaa. The volunteer group was comprised of eight doctors who performed medical volunteer service centering around the Argalant region, 100 kilometers away from Ulaanbaatar. There they treated around 300 patients by setting up free clinics inside the Argalant health center. Coming back to Ulaanbaatar, he passed on his expertise in surgery to Mongolian doctors by performing surgery on two breast cancer patients at the National Cancer Center of Mongolia. He also appeared in the program ‘Coffee and Tea’ at UBS TV for one hour to lecture on the importance of preventing cancer. Recently he made a MOU with Abu Dhabi government. Breast cancer patient already visited and successfully underwent breast conserving surgery.
About the reason why so many foreign patients visit, he said “The results of breast cancer treatment in Korea are superior to that of the U.S., European countries, Japan, and anywhere else in the world”. When a foreign patient visits the hospital, the center puts up their national flag and assigns an exclusive coordinator who speaks their native language, helping the patients feel at home. Last week, I had an American patient who underwent a surgery and also tomorrow French woman will be operated on. The vast numbers of foreign breast cancer patients have visited my hospital because of good quality of treatment. It means long survival, low recurrence, and they can maintain virtually the same breast shape,” said Dr. Paik.
“With persistent efforts and research, Ehwa Womans University Cancer Center for Women is aiming to improve the life quality of patients at home and abroad by not only recovering their physical illnesses, but also helping to overcome the psychological hardship of patients and their families.”