By Steve Blanchard - September 24, 2020
All men should be aware of their prostate cancer risks.
But of all racial and ethnic groups, Black men are the most likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and they are twice as likely to die from it as white men. Researching why these disparities exist and what to do about them has been a slow process, in part because minorities in general are underrepresented in clinical trials.
Barney Morris knows the risks all too well. When he first learned that he had elevated prostate-specific antigen during a routine medical exam, he feared the worst.
“The first thing that comes to your mind is you’re going to die,” Morris said.
At 41 and after some further testing, he learned he had prostate cancer. He was treated at Moffitt Cancer Center and his cancer has been undetectable for nearly 15 years.
But the health disparities are stark. African American men are nearly 80% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, 1 in 6 African American men will be diagnosed with the disease.
“While the results from ongoing studies are encouraging, we need to redouble our efforts to enroll Black patients in clinical trials to confirm the findings, to collect more tissue samples and data in order to learn what the genetic differences may be,” Pow-Sang said. “It’s necessary if we are to deliver on the promise of personalized medicine for all of our patients.”
"While the results from ongoing studies are encouraging, we need to redouble our efforts to enroll Black patients in clinical trials to confirm the findings, to collect more tissue samples and data in order to learn what the genetic differences may be."- Dr. Julio Pow-Sang, Genitourinary Oncology Department Chair
It’s recommended that Black men with a family history of cancer begin regular screening for prostate cancer at age 40. It’s also important to live a healthy lifestyle to help your body fight off disease and to feel comfortable talking about health issues.
Guidelines put in place in 2018 suggest men at the highest risk of prostate cancer, such as African Americans and those with a family history of the disease, have a conversation with their doctor about the risks and benefits to decide if screening is right for them.
According to the American Cancer Society, an African American man has an 18% chance of developing prostate cancer, compared to 13% for white men. More than 4% of African American men will ultimately die from the disease.
Screenings can help determine a man’s risk for prostate cancer and whether treatment is necessary.
“Some prostate cancers will stay dormant or could take decades to become a problem,” Pow-Sang said. “These cases do not need to be treated, and men could have side effects from treatment such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction. There are also the psychological effects associated with a false positive test, as over half of men who undergo a biopsy for an elevated PSA prove negative for cancer.”
Morris hopes his story will encourage all men to get screened and take health and treatment options seriously.
“Because of my diagnosis, I have realized the importance of being proactive in health care, especially when it comes to screening for prostate cancer,” said Morris. “Had I not had the screening, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”