Cancer is a mysterious disease all of us are at risk for. Generally, cancer does not discriminate. But, is this entirely true in regards to black men and prostate cancer? The answer is no. Black men have a distinct disadvantage in regards to this disease when compared to other races. This situation is not completely understood why as the reasons are complex.
What is known is that black men face more of an uphill battle if given a prostate cancer diagnosis:
- Black men are 50% more likely to develop prostate cancer in their lifetime.
- Black men are more likely to get an aggressive type of prostate cancer.
- Black men are twice as likely to die from the disease as white men.
With these types odds facing black men, taking advantage of being proactive and finding smart ways to outwit this potentially deadly disease, can be a plan for staying healthy and extending their life.
Here’s a look at strategies black men can use for outsmarting prostate cancer:
Get screened at a younger age and more often
The best strategy for black men is to begin prostate cancer screening by at least age 40 for a baseline and then to set yearly screenings after that. A prostate cancer screening involves a PSA blood test – a simple blood draw from the arm – which measures the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. A digital rectal exam is also advised. This exam allows a doctor to check for swelling and inflammation of the prostate gland by inserting a gloved finger into the rectum. It takes about 1 to 2 minutes and should not be painful. Depending on the results, more tests may be recommended.
It’s true that most men will live long enough to die with prostate cancer but not from it. However black men should know that their cancer might be more aggressive and therefore take advantage of yearly screenings to catch it as early as possible when it’s more easily treated.
Be an advocate for yourself and other black men
If your doctor says, “You don’t need a PSA test at such a young age,” you can do one of two things: Find a different doctor with a different philosophy or become more demanding. It’s your life and you have the right to speak up and advocate for yourself and your health. If it helps, take your significant other with you to the appointment. Having someone else with you can sometimes be helpful when there’s a force of two of you instead of just one.
A black man encouraging other black men to get tested for prostate cancer is ideal for getting the message out. By being a role model and explaining that prostate cancer screening is easy and fast, this can incentivize black men of all ages to take charge of their health by being proactive instead of reactive.
Understand your treatment plan and ask questions
If a black man is diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s very important to get the appropriate treatment best for him. For example, one type of treatment for prostate cancer is called active surveillance. Active surveillance is when low-risk prostate cancer (cancer that is slow growing and has not spread beyond the gland) does not require surgery or radiation therapy but instead is monitored very closely for any changes over months or even years. Of course, men with low-risk prostate cancer welcome this type of treatment as it’s less aggressive and avoids the potential side effects of other treatments.
But black men are more at risk for developing aggressive prostate cancer. Therefore, it may not be an appropriate treatment best for black men. Another factor to consider is that black men have been underrepresented in active surveillance studies. This is why having a thorough discussion with your doctor on the pros and cons of prostate cancer treatments need to be weighed carefully before making a final decision.
Connect with other men with prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in American men and it’s especially prevalent among black men. Yet, most black men rarely talk about it amongst themselves. If they are able to connect with other men (black or white) diagnosed with the disease, they often find welcoming camaraderie of a shared experience unique to them. Whether it’s in person or online, just being able to express feelings, thoughts, and hear other men’s stories, provides hope that they can conquer prostate cancer with the help of other men cheering them on.
Join a trial or research study
One of the best ways for modern medicine to make significant advances in treating disease, is to do extensive studies and research. Research that makes the biggest impact is those conducted on people and this is certainly true for prostate cancer. There are hundreds or trials looking for men with prostate cancer, especially if they have advanced cancer. But yet, black men are vastly underrepresented in clinical trials testing new therapies making up only 6.7% of participants.
A nonprofit organization called Prostate Cancer Health Education Network (PHEN), has developed webcasts called Clinical Trial Learning Sessions explaining how trials work. Black men can also join studies to help improve the understanding of the disease which also includes what factors put black men at a higher risk.
Black men, who are interested in getting involved in a clinical trial or research study, can ask their doctor what trials they are aware of in their area or search for one themselves at clinicaltrials.gov.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncolo gy and prostate cancer 911.