African-American men are 1.6 times more likely to get prostate cancer and more than twice as likely to die from the disease as White men. But how many of us know that? “I don’t believe that African-American men are optimally informed about their health care needs, including prostate health,” says Crystal Moore, M.D., Ph.D., a fellow of The College of American Pathologists and staff pathologist at the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Virginia. “This is due to numerous factors. There is a dearth of African-American health care providers and financial resources to obtain medical care, transportation to appointments, time off work and insurance coverage can limit access to adequate medical services.”
With the staggering statistics, it is imperative for our husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons to get educated on the risks of prostate cancer and also be vigilant about getting screened. Dr. Moore, who was recently awarded a grant by the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health to study prostate cancer and the growth of prostate tumors in Black men, says the stigma needs to be dropped as well. “There is also a cultural stigma among African-American men around seeking assistance regarding their penis, sexuality, digital rectal exams and loss of erectile function that impedes seeking timely, proactive treatment.”
Here are four things Dr. Moore wants you to know about prostate cancer.
The risk factors
Cancer of the prostate, a small, squishy gland about the size of a walnut, which sits under the bladder and in front of the rectum, is typically diagnosed in men 65 years and older and men who have a family history of the disease. According to Dr. Moore, incidences among Black men tend to be higher for a few different reasons: obesity, which is more common in the African-American population, and a poor diet. She says there is also a possibility that environmental factors play a role. “Black men are more likely to live in an urban setting or have occupations that lend themselves to potential toxin exposures. Living in areas with poor air quality, sewage processing plants or near industrial waste may contribute. Additionally, occupational exposures to chemicals, solvents, pesticides, agent orange and smoking may contribute.”
The American Cancer Society recommends that African-American men should talk to their doctor about getting screened at age 45, or 40 if you have two or more close relatives who had prostate cancer before the age of 65. “And of course, if you are experiencing any unusual issues with urination like dribbling, retention, difficulty passing, with sexuality, or blood in urine or semen, be sure to bring them to the attention of your physician,” says Dr. Moore.
The PSA test
There are no early warning symptoms for prostate cancer. That’s why getting screened is so important. The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test used to screen for prostate cancer. The PSA test detects increased levels of protein produced by cancerous and noncancerous tissue. However, many other conditions can also increase PSA levels, so determining what a high PSA score means can be challenging. Depending on a person’s test results, additional testing, follow up, or biopsy may be suggested.
“Healthy lifestyle choices improve overall health, virtually every health condition, and may decrease the chance of developing prostate cancer,” says Dr. Moore. She recommends maintaining an optimal weight, consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercising and not smoking.
To learn more about prostate cancer, go to www.pcf.org or call the Prostate Foundation at 1.800.757.CURE (2873).
LaShieka Hunter is a freelance writer and editor based on Long Island, N.Y. Follow her on Twitter.