Dr April Speed now works at Dekalb Medical, Hillandale, where she now provides a range of breast services to women, men and adolescents.
GE Healthcare’s work to accelerate cancer innovation and improve care for cancer patients extends towards addressing the emotional needs of the individual. Through a combination of imaginative ideas and proven solutions, GE Healthcare seeks to build stronger relationships between patients and doctors in order to spread the word on the importance of early diagnosis.
April L. Speed, M.D., a physician with Hillandale Breast Surgery, DeKalb Medical at Hillandale, Georgia, shares with GE Healthcare the anxieties patients face when screened for breast cancer and what can be done to diminish these fears.
Your recent TV appearance highlighted the importance of early detection of breast cancer. How important is it in terms of diagnosis and the effectiveness of treatment?
Quite simply early detection means better protection. Time is often of the essence and the goal is to catch things before they become problematic. What we’re realizing is that we have no way of knowing which tumors will rapidly progress and which will behave and grow more slowly. Some cancers can be caught 1-3 years before they become a palpable mass and the patient can feel it in their breast. So if mammograms are ordered early enough, the treatments recommended are a lot more manageable and the chances of success increase significantly.
Despite nationwide campaigns, are people still not attending regular mammogram sessions? Why do you think that is?
Going for a mammogram can be a very intimidating process. For a lot of clinicians they prepare the patient very well to receive their mammogram but where they don’t prepare the patient so well is the call back. When the patient is asked to attend additional mammogram sessions, this is where we are seeing a delay in diagnosis because a lot of women are reluctant to follow up. They allow the fear to paralyze them and that causes a delay in diagnosis.
One technique used to detect breast cancer is the breast mass work-up. Can you explain what this is and its importance to physicians?
Part of the work up involves having a physical breast examination conducted by a physician. This involves assessing the size, shape and firmness of the breast. If required, imaging becomes the next layer to this work up where a mammogram and/or ultrasound is carried out in order to assess and identify any cysts or masses contained in the breast. A minority of women may need a third layer of work up which is a biopsy. Here a small piece of breast tissue is extracted and sent to a laboratory for further investigation. Each case is unique though so the work up may be a combination of these techniques. Usually there is some aspect of imaging involved though.
Having a breast mass work up can also be intimidating for some women. But the goal is to try to add clarity to a complex issue and to share with women on what to expect. Additionally, by using positive peer pressure we can encourage more women to get a work up and follow up decisively if necessary.
Would you say a large part of your job is to council and reassure patients when they’re asked to participate in a breast mass work up?
Certainly within the medical community there is a lack of communication of which there could be improvements. Integrating better communication will definitely enhance the medical culture. We have to find better ways to carve out time to better prepare patients and let them know what to expect. This is where rapport and building a good relationship with the patient within a safe and secure setting comes into play. We show them breast mammograms and biopsy images and take them through what we have found answering any questions they may have. It helps enormously in dispelling the mystique of these images and their complexity.
What I have found is that patients need to be listened to and be validated. Patients are better able to deal with any potential bad news as we have better prepared them for this eventuality through better communication, support, and resources.
What are the lifestyle changes an individual can make to reduce the chances of suffering from breast cancer?
I tell my patients that diets high in sugar and saturated fats can have a detrimental effect to the body. The main thing is to have a healthy lifestyle where moderation is key. I encourage a balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and alcohol is restricted.
Exercise is also key. Data shows that women who participate in exercise 35-40 mins a day can reduce their risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. We’re finding that a lot of the cancers are being driven by the estrogen stored in the fat cells. It makes sense then to try to reduce your body mass index (BMI) to a healthy value.
Stress also plays a huge role with a lot of data suggesting that the part of the immune system that identifies and eliminates the production of cancer cells is compromised by the onset of stress to the body. This plays a large role in the development and recurrence of breast cancer.
About Dr April Speed
Dr Speed completed her Internship and General surgery residency at Grady Memorial Hospital. Upon completion of her residency she received a Fellowship to train further at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Here, she was exposed to advanced breast surgical oncology techniques as well as cutting-edge cancer research and publication opportunities. She now works at Dekalb Medical, Hillandale, where she now provides a range of breast services to women, men and adolescents.
A new GE Healthcare data visualization on patient experience and breast cancer reveals why women avoid regular mammograms, what variables affect patient pain levels during a scan and what hospitals can do to improve patient experience. View Full Data Visualization