For Men, Being Black and Having Prostate Cancer Is a Deadly Combination

© Brian Snyder/Reuters
© Brian Snyder/Reuters

Black men are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to die from prostate cancer.

It’s the kind of survival gap we’ve seen before. Such black-white survival divides are also common for women with breast cancer.

“One of our challenges is we don’t really understand the biological underpinnings of the higher rates that we see in black men,” says Dr. Durado Brooks, director of Prostate and Colorectal Cancers for the American Cancer Society. “This is not just African American men, but men of West African origin around the globe have higher rates of prostate cancer and are more likely to die of the cancer.”

Brooks says black men are also more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer at an earlier age, and evidence suggests that prostate cancer can be more aggressive among younger black males.

“There are some things we don’t understand, but we do know that black men don’t get the same quality of treatment,” he says. “That can be because of insurance issues and lack of access. And it’s also that a lot of men are simply fearful and don’t pursue a diagnosis.”

According to Brooks, many men are hesitant to consent to a digital rectal exam, which can be used to identify abnormalities of the prostate or even prostate cancer itself. But there are other types of screenings available, like a prostate specific antigen (PSA) level blood test.

“It’s been shown that the PSA alone is an adequate approach to screening,” he says. “The PSA plus the digital rectal exam provides a little more information. But, quite frankly, even with that combination, these are not highly reliable tests. One thing that we clearly need are better screening tests.”

In addition to screenings, Brooks says many men who do find out that they have an elevated PSA level do not follow up with doctors for biopsies and other procedures because of a fear of cancer.

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Source: PRI | T.J. Raphael, The Takeaway