If someone you love or care for has been diagnosed with a life threatening illness, like breast cancer, and you are now thrown into a new role to help support them as they fight to survive, it can be overwhelming. It is not an easy task, by any means. And it’s a learning process. But if you’re like most people, you want to do the best you can to help your loved one through this journey. You’ll need knowledge, patience, resources and support of your own. It can also be helpful to connect with others who have gone through or are going through similar experiences with breast cancer.
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
Dr. A. L. Spencer
Adam: [00:00] The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. Often it’s not just a lump so it’s important for all of us to know what to look for. To help us learn more about the most common signs of breast cancer I’m happy to introduce Dr. April Spencer to the show. Dr. Spencer, welcome.
Dr. Spencer: [00:16] Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Adam: [00:18] Thanks for joining the show. This is going to be a great conversation. Give us a little bit of background, tell us about yourself.
Dr. Spencer: [00:24] Sure, Adam. My name is April Spencer. I am a board-certified general surgeon. I did a breast fellowship in breast surgical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center and that fellowship was actually sponsored by Susan Komen Foundation. I always mention that because people need to know that research dollars go to support not just from the clinical or scientific side, but also to invest in the human resource of clinicians and surgeons that are interested in dedicating their lives to that.
Adam: [00:56] That’s right.
Dr. Spencer: [00:56] I recently launched a non carcinogenic makeup and skincare line and I’m also a huge advocate of using medical marijuana and CBD products as alternative complementary relief when patients are undergoing treatment to help mitigate against some of those symptoms.
Adam: [01:16] So you’re a doctor, surgeon, and an entrepreneur all at the same time. That sounds amazing. My admiration just went up a degree, which I didn’t know was possible so that’s wonderful. Well, tell us just a little bit more about your connection to Susan G Komen and the Know Your Girls campaign.
Dr. Spencer: [01:33] So my connection to the Susan G Komen Foundation and the Know Your Girls campaign started when I was in fellowship right before I did my general surgery training at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. I applied for a Susan Komen fellowship and was able to secure that and attended MD Anderson Cancer Center for the fellowship and I felt like it was my responsibility to try to give back to an organization that had given so much to me with my having been presented with the opportunity to train at the [inaudible 02:06] in the world so I wanted to dive fully in and dedicate my free time to be on that board, and so I started being involved while in Houston, Texas in the local chapter.
[02:17] And then once I relocated to Atlanta, I joined the Komen board, the Atlanta affiliate, and that affiliate was really instrumental in making sure that Georgians had the opportunity to get screened for their mammograms at low cost or no cost. They have so many initiatives where they do worship [pink? 02:38] on Sundays. I mean way beyond breast cancer awareness month, but just actively engaged and very deliberate in getting the word out to communities and raising awareness about breast cancer. And so my role with them was to be an advocate and also help to fund-raise and also very involved in getting the word out in terms of my own advocacy and doing programs in the name of Komen.
[03:05] I rolled off the board after I had the maximum number of years, which I think is maybe eight years only to enter into the [inaudible 03:14] council. I followed them very closely on Instagram and I noticed they had a lot of wonderful Know your Girls initiatives, but there was an opportunity for more clinicians to kind of weigh in on the consumer conversation and so I volunteered to be a clinical advocate in order to generate information for anyone coming across social media that have questions about breast cancer from a scientific or surgical side.
Adam: [03:40] Wow, wow so thank you so much for I mean just for all the work that you’re doing both professionally and obviously in volunteering on the Komen board as well. That’s really fantastic. So my next question is just looking at the most common signs of breast cancer, so what are the most common signs that people should be aware of.
Dr. Spencer: [03:58] Well, I think you said it very nicely in the beginning, Adam, is that not all the signs are going to be a lump in the breasts and that’s why most medical societies, including the American Society of Breast Surgeons, of which I am an international member, we don’t necessarily recommend monthly breast exams because when you think of a monthly breast exam, what do you think most people are thinking of, they’re looking for what?
Adam: [04:22] Look for a lump, right?
[04:24] Absolutely, but because of that, Adam, a lot of women and men were ignoring other signs that were suggestive of breast cancer. For example, changes in the skin such as retinas or darkening of the skin, nipple discharge. I diagnosed a lady with breast cancer not too long ago who just had clear nipple discharge and she was a young lady in her thirties. Ended up doing a mammogram and ultrasound and her breast cancer that probably would not have been diagnosed for the other five years. Also, any changes like a lump underneath the arm matches in the breast and just asymmetry and I tell patients, if you see something, say something. It doesn’t always have to be something that you feel so if it looks differently then let one of your health care providers know.
Adam: [05:07] Yeah, and I think what I’m also hearing you say is that the symptoms are not going to be the same for all women. Is that correct?
Dr. Spencer: [05:14] They’re not going to be the same for all women and they don’t always involve a lump, so the main takeaway from this, Adam is if there’s something that’s different just say something. Whether it’s to your healthcare provider, your primary care, your OB-GYN and I also want to encourage men to be aware as well. As you know, Beyonce Knowles’s father, Matthew Knowles, was diagnosed with male breast cancer and we see that in about 1% of the male population, and we think that’s under-reported.
[05:42] So I want to encourage your male listeners to also be mindful of their chest anatomy, so if they feel a lump in the breast or nipple discharge or hardening behind the nipple, it may not necessarily be a lump, but if there’s firmness there. A lump underneath the arm so make sure they let their healthcare provider knows as well.
Adam: [05:58] And you mentioned letting the healthcare provider know, what is the first step for someone that thinks there may be something amiss?
Dr. Spencer: [06:07] The first step for someone that may think something is amiss is to call their healthcare providers. It could be their primary care doctor and say,” Hey, I need to come in for a visit. This will not be a well check. I actually have a new sign or symptom in my breast,” be it nipple discharge, redness, lump underneath the arm, for males the same thing, just say, “Hey, I need to come in and I have some concerns and I also would like a mammogram.” And I say that you [inaudible 06:07], why would you have to request that?
[06:36] Most clinicians, that’s the absolute next step after you come in so we’re imaging, but oftentimes if a woman or a male is under the screening age of forty, screening means there’s no problem, but of course if there’s a problem the screen would be diagnostic. But you would need to be very specific and deliberate and say, “Hey, I really want this looked into with a mammogram specifically,” versus follow up in six months or we’ll just do an ultrasound. But just make sure you be your own advocate and push to have a mammogram of both breasts, not just the breast that has a concern and also an ultrasound that side as well.
Adam: [07:14] Hmm, wow that’s really, really good advice. So we’ve talked about symptoms. I know we talked earlier about raising awareness to help educate women about breast cancer is a priority for you and I assume that’s why you’re part of that and Know our Girls campaign. Is there anything else you’d like to say about that?
Dr. Spencer: [07:33] Oh yes, absolutely. So awareness is one, but also there are things that we can do to be proactive on our health and I just call it the ABCs of breast cancer prevention. So the A you’ve already mentioned, which is awareness, being aware of your body, being aware of that [inaudible 07:33] in terms of when to go in for screening mammograms starting at age forty, but the B is the behavior. So just make sure that you know that if you exercise at least twenty or thirty minutes a day that reduces the breast cancer risk. Minimizing alcohol intake, nursing, if you can. Just try to maintain a healthy weight and the C is just being mindful of consumer choices. Although we don’t have a whole lot of definitive data, Adam, to show that certain foods can cause breast cancer or certain consumer products are directly linked to breast cancer.
[08:25] Now we didn’t know that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer problems fifty years and so it’s important that we’re mindful in our consumer choices. So just make sure that you’re reading the labels when you’re making your consumer choices. Make sure they’re free of preservatives, minimal ingredients, free of parabens [inaudible 08:44]. I don’t necessarily need to spell it, but it’s one of those things that’s on a lot of labels now. Parabens and preservatives and [inaudible 08:52] is just a softener, but it can mimic estrogen and estrogen can stimulate breast cancers. It’s known to cause breast cancer in lab animals and so again just be mindful of your consumer choices and that is kind of what led me into starting the Taylor Made cosmetics. It’s just a lot of patients wanted to know how can I make better consumer choices when it comes to what I’m putting in my skin and on my body and of course there’s not a whole lot out there in terms of a really good product line that was both safe, simple and sexy, all three of those things. So I just worked with a lab and created my own with the guidance of my patients so …
Adam: [09:29] Wow, that is just beyond fantastic. That’s just so amazing, so amazing. Well, Dr. Spencer, this has been really fantastic. Do you have any final thoughts that you want to share with our listeners recognizing that they may be struggling with breast cancer or they may have friends and family that are close to them that are struggling with breast cancer?
Dr. Spencer: [09:45] Yes, absolutely so for those who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, I want to just encourage you that early detection means better protection so make sure you get that annual screening mammogram and if you get a call back, go back, because oftentimes as clinicians we prepare patients to get your mammogram and to get screened. But we really don’t manage the messaging very well regarding if I get a callback, what do I do. It can just be paralyzing.
[10:13] Sometimes people panic and they don’t go back because it could just be an overlap of breast tissue. They just need to look a little bit further and see what’s seen on the images, so just make sure you go back. And then for those that have been affected by breast cancer, I always say you may have breast cancer but it doesn’t have you.
[10:29] It’s one of those things where a bump in the breast is like a bump in the road. You go over it, you go under it, you go around but with a good care team, you can get to the other side. So just make sure that you follow through with all recommended treatment and also be mindful that complementary medicine is also helpful as well. But you’ve got to stick to what we would say is the traditional treatment terms of surgery, chemo, radiation but if you’re taking vitamins, you can take your vitamins.
[10:54] If you have a clinician that feels comfortable with managing CBD oil or medical marijuana to mitigate against the symptoms because a lot of people would rather lose their hair than lose their life. Or to say, “Hey, I don’t want those symptoms and I’ll try anything.” But consider the alternative, it could save your life so just have conversations about things you can do to mitigate against the symptoms that you’ll have from treatment and again it’s temporary.
Adam: [11:22] Yeah, wow that’s great. Dr. Spencer, this has been amazing. You’re a great guest. Thanks so much for your time today.
Dr. Spencer: [11:27] Thanks for having me, Adam. You’re absolutely awesome.
Intro and outro music is City Sunshine by Kevin MacLeod. Ad music is Blue Skies by Silent Partner. The Real Pink podcast is hosted by Adam Walker, produced by Shannon Evanchec and owned by Susan G. Komen.