Scotland

Stark Talk: Breast surgeon Prof Mike Dixon

Image caption Prof Mike Dixon has performed breast surgery and reconstructive surgery on thousands of women diagnosed with cancer.

"I think I have always been an admirer of women," leading breast cancer surgeon Prof Mike Dixon told BBC Scotland's Stark Talk programme .

"Women cope much better than men - and women, generally, are let down by their men, and that includes me too", he said.

Dr Dixon is a world-class consultant surgeon working at the Western General in Edinburgh - the largest and busiest breast unit in the UK.

Over the past 25 years, he has performed breast surgery and reconstructive surgery on thousands of women diagnosed with cancer.

The 57-year-old consultant admits that during his student days at Edinburgh University's medical school in 1970s he had a reputation as a "ladies man".

prof mike Nixon
Image caption Dr Dixon said he believed in "equal access to care"

But Dr Dixon, who has been "happily married" for 27 years, said he found it very easy to "like and admire women without seeing them as sexual objects".

He added: "Also you are looking after women in a very vulnerable situation so it is really nice to be their friends and look after them and help them through difficult times."

The consultant admitted to being a "very emotional" person, who cried at weepy movies.

"I take things to heart and I think if you don't you probably don't try as hard," he said.

Private insurance

Dr Dixon added: "Breast surgery is totally different from cardiac surgery.

"In cardiac surgery you are a technician, you don't need to be able to talk to your patients at all."

But he said: "Ladies who come and see me are so anxious and so worried because they know they have got breast cancer and we have a chat and they go out much happier.

"A lot of them say 'I never thought I would go out smiling and happy'.

"I cuddle a lot of my patients because I think it is very important that they know you are on the same side as they are and this is something we are going to live and sort out together."

Dr Dixon said he got very upset if things went wrong.

"I go home and can't leave what's at work behind because it is so important in people's lives and I'm involved in their lives," he said.

"Patients know if you care. If you care, they know they have somebody who is on their side who is going to do the best for them.

"One of things doctors forget is how much their own personality can help the patient cope with their condition.

"In the old days that's all we had. Now we have good drugs but drugs with caring improves the outcomes, I think."

Dr Dixon grew up in Sheffield, in what he calls the "people's republic of South Yorkshire".

He said his working class roots had led him to continue to believe in "equal access to care".

"A lot of people I look after have private insurance but I treat them on the NHS," he said.

"I've never done any private work. You shouldn't forget where you came from."

Dr Dixon said: "I am able to practice medicine to the same morals and ideals I had when I was 16. How many people can actually say that?

"There are greater things in life than money. Some of my older ladies who live alone and don't have much money, it's great to be able to give them the best care you can."

Dr Dixon's father was a steelworker who went deaf and used his redundancy money to buy a sweetie shop.

The family lived above the shop.

Poor treatment

"It was rough and ready but happy," Dr Dixon said.

He left school at 16 because he had taken his A-levels early.

However, before becoming a medical student he took a job as a hospital porter to get first-hand experience of how hospitals worked.

He also spent two summers as a nursing auxiliary.

Dr Dixon said he believed it was important to start at the bottom and find out what people did.

Soon after he qualified as a junior doctor, Dr Dixon's father died.

The consultant said he still remembered the poor treatment he received when his father died.

The nurse at the hospital said to him: "Your dad's dead, you'll have to sort your mother out."

He said: "They didn't treat me at all like a bereaved relative.

"They treated me like another doctor, which was very inappropriate.

"For a long time when I was a junior doctor having to tell relatives their father or mother had died I found that really difficult and I used to be crying with them.

"It made me realise how your approach to people was really important in how they coped."

But Dr Dixon's approach to cancer care has been about much more than support for patients.

He said there had been "an amazing change" in breast cancer treatment over his career.

"A transformation really," he said.

"There are people now who are alive who would never have survived previously and roughly every 10 years we have halved the death rate from breast cancer. So it has been a phenomenal improvement.

"The improvement comes about through earlier diagnosis and better treatments and what a great time to be a doctor.

"Our survival rate from breast cancer is as good as anywhere else in the world and I know that because I go to international conferences.

"I actually think Scotland as a whole does pretty well.

"Do people in Scotland survive as well as anyone else in the world? The answer to that is absolutely 'yes'."

However, Dr Dixon is always looking to improve treatment and has written dozens of research papers and books on the subject.

"You can't look after patients and be satisfied with what you are doing now," he said.

"You have got to be thinking 'what can we do next year that is different and better?'

"I often say to people I work with: 'If next year I am doing the same as this year, it is time to pack up'."

Stark Talk with Prof Mike Dixon Tuesday 1 May BBC Radio Scotland 14:00

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