Dr. Paik Nam-sun of Ewha Womans university cancer center Spearheads Oncoplastic Breast-conserving Surgery
“The sufferings of breast cancer patients do not end after surgery. Breast cancer survivors, who had to have their breasts removed or disfigured, cannot go to public bathhouses or get divorced by their husbands. Their heartbreaking stories had prompted me to focus on breast-conserving surgery,” said breast cancer specialist Paik Nam-sun, Director of the Ewha Womans University Cancer Center for Women (hereafter EWUCCW).
Surgeon Paik was born in Iksan, Jeonbuk, Korea. He graduated from Seoul National University College of Medicine, ther after served as director of Korea Cancer Center Hospital, director of Konkuk University Medical Center, chairman of Korean Breast Cancer Society and chairman of Asia Breast Cancer Society. In 1986, he became the first surgeon to carry out breast-conserving surgery (BCS) in Korea. In 1991, he developed ‘Paik Nam-sun Stomach Cancer Surgery’ that reduces the risk of reflux oesophagitis. Such achievements earned him a spot on a list of the world’s top 100 gastric and breast cancer surgeons, unveiled by the international Biographical Center of Cambridge in the UK in 2006. He is unequivocally the No.1 breast cancer specialist in and outside Korea.
What matters most to him is showing proper consideration for patients. It means reducing the number of hospital visits by patients during the agonizing period between diagnosis and treatment and helping patients feel at home at the hospital. Generally in other hospitals, the period between diagnosis and treatment lasts at least a week or several months. Breast cancer patients have to visit the hospital so frequently for various kinds of tests, operations and post-surgery treatment.
To save patients hospital visits, the EWUCCW has set up a fast-track system, whereby a patient can undergo surgery within a day of arriving at the hospital. When there is a patient suspected of having cancer, a frozen section examination will be done to confirm whether the patient has cancer or not. The EWUCCW makes it a rule to diagnose a disease and inform the patient of whether surgery is needed or not within 2-3 hours.
The following are excerpts from surgeon Paik’s interview with The Korea IT Times.
Q: Could you explain the EWUCCW’s differentiated treatment system?
A: Cancer patients want to have treatment in a correct stable and speedy manner. To meet their demands, we have streamlined our systems and upgraded them into speedy, scientific ones.
First of all, once a patient comes to our hospital, the patient will have a frozen section examination, the result of which will become available within 2-3 hours. Given that the result of a biopsy comes out at least a week later at other hospitals, it’s really fast.
In addition to frozen section examinations, we carry out varies scientific exams (e.g. pathological exams, radiological examinations and nuclear medicine) to accurately diagnose a disease in a couple of days. Once the final diagnosis has been confirmed, the patient will go under the knife within a week.
Above all, our doctors gather to reach agreement on the most accurate diagnosis and pool all the professional medical technologies together. By doing so, we nail the smallest, elusive causes of a disease. Equipped with the top-of-the-line, cutting-edge radiation therapy and nuclear medicine equipment, we consult with lots of various medical specialists to make the most accurate diagnosis.
Whether a patient will have a mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery (or lumpectomy) determines the quality of the patient’s post-surgery life. If patients come to us, they can have the world’s best oncoplastic breast-conserving surgery, designed to remove tumors and reconstruct breasts.
Q: Why do many foreign patients choose the EWUCCW and what’s your globalization strategy?
A: Since Dr. Paik has vigorously promoted the feat that the EWUCCW was the first to perform a BCS in Asia, our hospital has more foreign patient than other hospitals do. We have medical coordinators fluent in English, Japanese, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. And our patient-friendly medical staff offer one-on-one customized services to patients to ensure patients feel satisfied throughout their treatment. Many kinds of hood are prepared for each country hood-habit.
This year alone, we treated a great number of foreign patients from 60 countries, including the US, the EU, coastal counties along the Atlantic Ocean, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China and Russia. Many of them told us that they had learned about our hospital’s advanced medical system through online reports (e.g. Google News) and mass media coverage. One of my patients even knew about my hobby.
We also go abroad to share our advance medical technology with other countries.
When I visited the UAE, I explained my treatment method in front of to officials, ministry of the UAE’s health and welfare how to treat breast cancer patients and our hospital’s good track record of successful treatment cases. The UAE government helped us sign a contract with a state-run insurance company, so I treated UAE patients without worrying about medical expenses.
I’ve recently visited China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan where I operated on patients and trained local doctors and nurses. The reason why I try to share my knowledge and technology with others is because no matter how excellent medical techniques a doctor may have, it would be of no use if no one knew about the doctor. As the saying goes, “Nothing is complete unless you put it in final shape.”
I’d like to continuously introduce our medical techniques to developing counties and thus use my medical techniques in treating more foreign breast cancer patients.
Q: What’s the reason for a spike in breast cancer incidence rates and what kind of food would help patients recover after surgery?
A: Unfortunately, that’s true. Breast cancer incidence rates have been rising sharply and the average age of breast cancer patients is getting old like a western pattern.
Though a clear-cut explanation for the causes of breast cancer has yet to be available, high fat food, high-calorie westernized diets, drinking, smoking, late marriage, low birth rates, short period of to breast feeding, prolonged exposure to estrogen (owing to early menstruation, and late menopause) are generally to blame for breast cancer.
However, breast cancer can be detected early by breast self examination and regular hospital visits. And it has a 90% five-year survival rate. Thus, good treatment and management will help patients lead a healthy life. Therefore, we are running a post-surgery professional treatment program to help patients develop healthy eating habits and strengthen their immunity.
Soybeans have long been known as a great anti- breast cancer food. So we recommend soybean paste soup, pureed soybean stew, milk (rich in vitamin D), green tea (rich in polyphenols, antioxidants). Fresh fruits, vegetables, multiple vitamins and Korean ginseng. On top of that, we are also running cancer rehabilitation programs, such as yoga classes, stretching exercises and foot massages. We put a high premium on post-surgery services.
Q: What’s your definition of a good surgeon?
A: The most important virtue of a good surgeon is to sympathize with patients. In the past, even successful breast cancer surgery often made the patients feel ashamed and uncomfortable because they had to live the rest of their lives single-breasted or with misshapen or deformed breasts. Since I carried out Korea’s first breast-conserving cancer surgery in 1986, so many breast cancer patients have had breast conserving and also their breasts reconstructed by me, thus feeling more confident about themselves.
In some ways, the duty of a surgeon is to perform surgery well and check out whether patients develop any complications throughout their hospital stay. However, for me, having excellent surgical techniques is basic to becoming a good surgeon. Surgeons who stand by patients until they have their quality life and happiness back are good ones.
I believe that good professor surgeons are those who pass down their latest medical knowledge to their junior colleagues, lead them in the right direction and thus are respected by them.