This Doctor Says Breast Cancer Should Not Be a Death Sentence
PHOTO BY @Staras/iStock
  • Dr. Norman San Agustin, a fellow at the American College of Surgeons with decades of successful medical practice in the United States, believes his mission was cemented after his daughter's death.

    "My daughter Nikki died when she was 12 years old in a skiing accident many years ago. She got hit in the head, she had internal bleeding, and she died. I was angry with God. 'Why would you take away this young girl?' So innocent, such a lot or promises in the future and she could have helped so many people."

    Nikki died in 1989 when Dr. San Agustin was a practicing medical doctor in Morristown in New Jersey. He fought for a bill that required young skiers to wear a protective helmet. In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that required New Jersey skiers and snowboarders who are 17 years old and below to wear a helmet.  


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    In Dr. San Agustin's mind, for that law to happen, "Nikki had to be born, and she had to die. And if she didn't die, I wouldn't be here now. I didn’t see it that way at that time occurred, but it is now clear in my mind." 

    Dr. San Agustin is still on a mission. He believes everything that has happened in his life has led him to bring his expertise to the Philippines and help those in need. So, in 2016, he founded Asian Breast Center in Makati, Philippines, which is affiliated with Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey and De La Salle University locally.

    Breast cancer used to be one of the most feared illnesses. In the Philippines, one of every four women will develop cancer, and 50 percent of those will die from the disease. And almost 90 percent of the women who will get breast cancer will lose their breast to mastectomy.  


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    With Asian Breast Cancer, which provides a multi-disciplinary approach to breast health care, Dr. San Agustin wants Filipinas to realize that a breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence like it was a decade ago. "It’s the number 1 killer among different types of cancer, and yet it’s one of the most curable. In fact, we have a saying here, ‘The greatest tragedy is for a woman to die from a common disease that is 100% curable’," he explains.

    He adds, "We have to break that cycle of fear amongst Filipino women: fear of losing the breast, fear of losing your dignity, and fear of losing your life. These are the reasons women don't see a doctor. But in the United States, everybody’s flocking around doctors’ offices wanting to have a mammogram because they know that if they discover the disease [early enough], it is curable."

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    Dr. San Agustin hopes that women don't go to specialty clinics when you have cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women ages 40 to 44 to start annual breast cancer screening like mammograms. 

    One of Asian Breast Center screening tools is the Molecular Breast Imaging. It's a new nuclear medicine technique that makes tumor cells highly visible with a special camera. It is ideal for Filipinos because like other Asians, we have dense breasts, which makes it challenging to detect malignancies with a regular mammogram.

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    "The MBI is less expensive [than the mammogram]. It’s safer because we use a different dye which is not harmful to your kidneys. And it can detect early breast cancer up to 400% compared to a regular mammogram."

    And because early detection is a significant factor in the treatment of breast cancer, the chances for survival are up by 100%. "Your chances of dying from bad pneumonia is higher than that of dying from breast cancer if it's detected at stage zero." 

    As Dr. San Agustin points out, "The fear should not be in having cancer. The fear should be in having cancer and not knowing. 

    "And now, you don’t have to go to the United States anymore [to get breast cancer screening, diagnosis or treatment]. The United States has come to you."  

    Asian Breast Center provides screening, diagnosis, and treatment with the help of a team of medical professionals, composed of doctors specializing in radiation oncology, nuclear medicine, diagnostic radiology, interventional radiology, plastic surgery, and oncoplastic surgery. It is located at the 8th floor, Centuria Medical Makati, Kalayaan Ave, Makati City. Find them on Facebook.

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