Prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in men behind skin cancer with nearly a quarter of a million cases diagnosed each year in the United States, is playing the favorites.
African American men are at the highest risk of developing and dying from the disease.
African American men are 1.8 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men. The reasons are complex, said family physician Dr. Eldra Daniels Penn State Health Medical Group – Mount Joy and Penn State Health Lime Spring Ambulatory Center.
âGenetics play a role as well as the social environment, a history of smoking and limited physical activity,â Daniels said, adding that African American men also have less access to high-quality care.
“We are also seeing a disparity in health among African American men,” he continued. âThey are less likely to see their doctor regularly, and when they see one, they might not receive the same attention and intervention as other populations. Historically, there is a certain distrust of the medical field among African American men. “
Helping this population overcome this mistrust was one of the reasons Daniels, an African American, turned to medicine. In addition, he wants to sound the alarm bells on the importance of timely screening for prostate cancer.
Not only are African Americans at a significantly higher risk of developing prostate cancer, they are also 2.2 times more likely to die from the disease than white men.
âAfrican American men tend to have more aggressive prostate cancer that metastasizes,â Daniels said. âThey are diagnosed twice as many as white men and their cancers are detected at more advanced stages. They might go to the doctor for back pain only to find out that it isn’t arthritis, but rather prostate cancer that has metastasized into their bones. It is extremely important that they are screened for this cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that African American men begin screening for prostate cancer at age 45.
âThe other ethnic groups start at age 50. It’s five years too late for an African-American man,â Daniels said. “And if they have more than one family member who developed prostate cancer before the age of 65, African American men should discuss with their doctor the possibility of starting their screening at age 40 . “
Men can see their primary care physician for their prostate screening. Their doctor will order a blood test to measure prostate specific antigen (PSA) – a protein produced by cancerous and non-cancerous prostate tissue – and perform what is called a digital rectal exam.
âDuring the exam, a doctor puts his finger in the rectum and feels the prostate,â Daniels said. âIt’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. Some want to avoid it altogether. We have to stress with men that this is a quick procedure which is so important for their health.
If the blood test shows high levels of PSA or if the doctor finds anything during the digital rectal exam, the doctor will refer the patient to a urologist for further testing.
âSometimes men are very nervous about getting cancer and need surgery when they have high PSA levels,â Daniels said. âThis is not necessarily true. High PSA could be due to benign prostatic hyperplasia – an enlarged prostate – which is a common condition in older men. “
Treatment for prostate cancer varies depending on the specifics of the cancer, its location in the prostate and the stage of the cancer. Options include active surveillance, surgery, radiation or hormone therapy, chemotherapy, cryotherapy, and laser ablation.
âThere have been disparities among the African American population with the way prostate cancer is treated,â Daniels said. “Sometimes African American men diagnosed with early prostate cancer were less likely to receive some form of treatment than other ethnic populations with the same diagnosis – despite the fact that this cancer is generally more aggressive in African men. Americans. “
Daniels doesn’t just want to educate African American men about their increased risk of developing – and dying – from prostate cancer. He says others play a vital role in messaging as well.
âSpouses, family members and the community need to know the risks so that they can support their loved ones by encouraging healthier lifestyles and emphasizing the need for early screenings,â Daniels said.
African American men are at the highest risk of developing and dying from prostate cancer. It is essential that this population take preventive measures and seek appropriate treatment if diagnosed.
The Medical minute is a weekly health article produced by Penn State Health. The articles showcase the expertise of faculty, physicians, and staff, and are designed to deliver relevant and timely health information of interest to a broad audience.