Knowing and Reducing Breast Cancer Risk with Dr. April Spencer

Everyone is at risk of breast cancer, but some of us are at higher risk than others. We know that black women are about 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. These disparities are unacceptable. Your race and where you live should not determine whether you live. Here today to help us learn how to stay on top of our breast health is Dr. April Spencer.

About April

Dr. April Spencer is the Founder and Chief Operating Surgeon of Dr. Spencer’s Global Breast Health & Wellness Center. 

She is a board certified general surgeon and completed a Susan G. Komen-Sponsored, Breast Surgery Fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center. As an expert, she  provides 100% breast surgical services with Dignity and Detail. 

Dr. Spencer has recently launched her own cosmetic’s line—Taylor Made Cosmetics. It’s a Safe, Simple and Sexy option for health & environmentally- conscious consumers. Found at TaylormadeCosmetics.Online

She’s a medical media personality, highly sought-after speaker, author, consultant and lecturer on breast cancer and breast health.

Please follow our journey from your Breast Health to your Best Health @Doctoraprilspencer


Adam (00:01):

Everyone is at risk of breast cancer, but some of us are at higher risk than others. We know that black women are about 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. These disparities are unacceptable your race and where you live should not determine whether you live here today to help us learn how to stay on top of our breast health is Dr. April Spencer, Dr. Spencer. Welcome back to the show.

Dr. Spencer (00:29):

Thank you. Thank you for having me and Adam. I have to tell you, I’m so proud of you for making this a priority, not just in the month of October, but year round so we can start the year off,

Adam (00:40):

Right? That’s right. Well, it’s so it’s so important and it’s so important to understand that there is a disparity it’s so important to understand how to get past that disparity. And it’s just so important to continually get this message out. So I’m really happy to talk with you again, really enjoyed our last conversation back in 2019. And and here we are again in 2021. So first I’ll let let’s let’s remind our listeners, tell us about yourself and how you got involved in the breast cancer space.

Dr. Spencer (01:05):

Sure. my name is Dr. April Spencer. I’m a board certified general surgeon. I trained at a Grady hospital in Atlanta. I did a lot of trauma surgery, but while there I had an opportunity to connect with some of the women in our breast cancer clinic. And unlike the traumas I was treating, I wouldn’t see those patients again until there was another trauma, another gunshot, another accident, but my breast cancer patients, not only did they look like me, we just connected over community and gender and shared vision and shared values. And I had an opportunity to develop a relationship with these women and realize, you know what, it’s not just about your breast health, but your best health. So I decided to go to MD Anderson cancer center to do a fellowship where I focus solely on breast cancer surgery. And I was fortunate enough to be accepted that fellowship did well finish and came back to Atlanta to help set up a breast center and then went off on my own and was involved with Komen in the Atlanta area. So it gave me an opportunity to extend my reach of education outside of the four walls of the surgical suite or even my clinical practice.

Adam (02:13):

That’s fantastic. So I’m thankful that you’ve chosen that path and that you’re making such a huge impact in the world. Let’s start with some statistics. We know that breast cancer is the most common cancer among black women in the U S what other factors and risk factors do you want black women to be aware of as it relates to breast cancer?

Dr. Spencer (02:33):

Yes. So in terms of whatever additional facts, one of the things that’s unique to African-American women is that we are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage. And we also, as you mentioned earlier, have a higher mortality rate than none African-American women. And what makes this so unsettling? Is this a stage for stage? Meaning it doesn’t really matter if it’s stage one versus stage four. You know, our mortality rate is higher, so we don’t do as well. And we also have later in more aggressive forms of disease, one of the things that oftentimes it’s been pushed nationally is early detection. It’s still extremely important to have early detection is better protection. But one of the things about African-American women is that we are getting our mammograms almost at a higher rate than the national average, which is 70%. And the national average is 69%, so slightly higher rate.

Dr. Spencer (03:29):

So African-American women are getting screened, but I think one of the facts that we need to be clear on is that many African-American women, when they get a call back, they don’t go back. And so the screening has taken place, but there is an opportunity to have some impact on a disparity in terms of the follow-up, the follow-through and the treatment and that accessibility. And so that’s a major factor. Another thing that a lot of people, and we don’t need a little talk about a lot about, but having children at, after the age of 30 has an increased risk for breast cancer and all women, but particularly African-American women, we’re the most educated demographic in the United States right now. And with that, what I call ambition addiction comes with oftentimes delay or decrease in self care exercise, poor diet, high stress. And so those can have contributing factors to elevating our risk for breast cancer.

Adam (04:28):

Wow. Yeah. That’s great points. And so, yeah, and I think risk awareness is, is probably the first step. And so what advice would you give our listeners to help reduce their risk of breast cancer?

Dr. Spencer (04:40):

I, I would give to your listeners as simple as ABC. So the aim is just being aware, being aware of your body. If you see something, say something, and that’s not always alone, that could be something as simple as nipple discharge or skin changes or a lump underneath the arm instead of in the breast. The other thing that’s important is the bee behavior. A lot of things we can’t change, we can’t change our age. We can’t change our gender or race, but our behavior can make a positive impact. So what the data show currently is exercise is extremely important in terms of reducing breast cancer, not only in women that have never been diagnosed, but also women that have been currently diagnosed to diet. There’s no one magic diet anywhere with diet. Isn’t that a good thing. So I choose to say culinary choices. So that would include just making sure you have decreased intake of saturated fats, increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Spencer (05:37):

There’s a lot of data to show that vitamin D deficiency is associated with breast cancer. So make sure you get vitamin D, but she gets sunlight when you have the vitamin D exposure and also see just our culinary choices and our consumer choices. Be mindful that every time you sit down to either feeding or fighting disease and about 30 to 40% of all cancers are associated with what we are taking in terms of our diet and consumer choices, there are a lot of carcinogens in the environment, in our home and eye makeup and skincare products. So just be mindful, read the labels so that you can be proactive in protecting yourself. So those are the ABCs.

Adam (06:15):

So there’s a statement you made. And I, I just want to repeat it because wow, you said every time you sit down to eat, you’re either feeding or fighting disease. That is a game changing statement, right?

Dr. Spencer (06:27):

Yeah. It’s 80% of our immune system is in our gut Adam and our immune system controls cancer. So, you know, we literally are what you eat. Like if you eat cancerous food that can promote an environment where cancer can thrive or your body has decreased ability to be able to fight.

Adam (06:42):

Yeah. Wow. So Dr. Spencer, you’re a physician and I know the patient physician trust is, is just so important. So talk to me a little bit about how you build trust with your patients and how you work with them on their best treatment options.

Dr. Spencer (06:58):

Yes, that is so important to establish patient trust. My practice philosophy is breast care, dignity, and detail, but I always try to make sure my team understands the three CS and that’s customer service competency and compassion. Like you expect your clinician to have some competency, but I think where conditions can stand out is if they have the compassion to have the bedside manner we’re in, regardless of even pre pandemic, we were in increased pressure, Adam to see more patients, see them more quickly try to be efficient in the visit. And a lot of times patients walk away feeling frustrated, feeling that they have not been validated or heard or not even understand what the treatment plan is. So what I would encourage patients to do is to be your own advocate, get back in the driver’s seat of your care. If you feel like you’re not wrong in the same direction with your team, get a second or third opinion, if you need to.

Dr. Spencer (07:52):

And then I would encourage my clinicians to say, listen, I understand that we’re all under increased pressure to perform and to get patients in and out efficiently and maintain that integrity and compassion, but have a follow-up phone call. And you have an opportunity where you can, even with the zoom calls now being more prevalent. I’ve had patients where I say, listen, I know we couldn’t finish our conversation in the clinic, but I’d be more than happy to follow with the zoom call. That’s more convenient for you. If you have some lingering questions that came up when you were in the parking lot, or once you get home, it just doesn’t have to take an hour. So all patients need is they want to be seen. So bedside is extremely important that people have died. Literally Adam died from a lack of care because they were so shaded and so angry with their care team that they felt that, you know what, I can do this on my own. And obviously that wasn’t sustainable because you increase your mortality. If you don’t get treatment, patients should not feel that invalidated that they’d rather not get any treatment at all, then being treated the way that they treated with their first health care providers. So there’s certainly some opportunity there, but be your own advocate.

Adam (09:01):

Those are such, such important points. And, and I’m, I’m thankful for your patients. I think you must have a wonderful relationship with them. So the last question I know, raising awareness and helping educate women about breast cancer is a huge priority for you. What else would you like our listeners to know

Dr. Spencer (09:19):

For many years, we have done an excellent job at raising awareness, Adam, but I think now in 2021, we’ve learned so much about what’s really, truly important. And that’s family, our mental health, our cycles. So minimize a psychosocial stressors. So our priority moving forward is of course continue to raise awareness with the mammograms and during yourself breast exams and see your clinician, but we’ve got to move to action. What is action, empowering people to know, listen, you can impact your health. And if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and you’re listening to this podcast, I just want to encourage you and remind you that you may have breast cancer, but it doesn’t have you, but this bump of the breast, it’s like a bump in the road. You’re going to get over it. You go under it, you go around it, but don’t be discouraged. You know, there is value in the Valley and this too shall pass with a great team and a wonderful attitude. You can definitely go from your breast health to your best health.

Adam (10:16):

I love that. I love that. Well, Dr. Spencer, again, thank you so much for joining me on this show and we’ll look forward to having you back again sometime soon.

Dr. Spencer (10:24):

It was only a pleasure. Thank you, Adam.


This episode is sponsored by Merck, and Amgen Oncology.

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