Men of African-American descent are at a significantly higher risk of developing prostate cancer than white men. Among black men, 19 percent — nearly one in five — will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and five percent of those will die from this disease. In fact, prostate cancer is the fourth most common reason overall for death in African-American men.
Prostate Cancer in African-American Men: How Much Greater Is the Risk?
Researchers aren’t exactly sure of the reasons why black men are at an increased risk of developing and dying from prostate cancer. “Unfortunately, right now we really don’t know why African-American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer. We know that they are more likely to die from prostate cancer in part because of delayed diagnosis and in part because of limits in access to treatment,” says Durado Brooks, MD, director of prostate and colorectal cancer at the American Cancer Society. Research is under way in an attempt to better understand the causes, but one recent study from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California suggests that there may be a genetic link.
And while African-American men are already at an increased risk for prostate cancer, their risk increases dramatically if there is a family history of prostate cancer. African-American men with an immediate family member who had prostate cancer have a one in three chance of developing the disease. Their risk rises to 83 percent with two immediate family members having the disease, and skyrockets to 97 percent if they have three immediate family members who developed prostate cancer.
Early Prostate Cancer Screening: Why It’s So Important
Early prostate cancer screening is important because by the time that symptoms appear, the cancer is likely in an advanced stage. The earlier the prostate cancer is caught — before symptoms appear — the better the chances for recovery.
Prostate cancer is highly treatable when caught early. “Almost 100 percent of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer in its earliest stage will be alive five years later. Men need to understand that there is something that can be done about this disease,” notes Dr. Brooks.
Prostate Cancer Screening for African-American Men
Regular screening is important for all men at the age when prostate cancer becomes more likely. But for black men, routine prostate cancer screening should start at an even younger age. The American Cancer Society recommends that African-American men discuss testing with their doctor at age 45, or at age 40 if they have several close relatives who have had prostate cancer before age 65.
Screening tests can include a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and/or a digital rectal exam (DRE). Both tests can be usually be done by your family doctor. A digital rectal exam is a quick and only mildly uncomfortable exam of your prostate. Your doctor will use a lubricated, gloved finger to gently feel the surface of your prostate gland for lumps or other abnormalities.
In addition to recognizing the need for early screening, says Brooks, African-American men should be aware of the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. These symptoms can include urinating in the middle of the night, needing to urinate more frequently, and feeling like the bladder doesn’t completely empty. Blood in the urine may also be a sign of prostate cancer.
Brooks notes that it is important for black men to talk to their doctor about diagnostic testing for prostate cancer if they are experiencing any of these symptoms. African-American men also “need to have a discussion with their doctor about the benefits and limitations of screening for early prostate cancer detection,” Brooks says. “Not ignoring symptoms and being aware that finding the disease and treating it early has very good outcomes are the two main things that we need to get men to be aware of and to address.”
If you know someone who may be at risk for prostate cancer or is over the age of 40, please have them contact their primary care physician for testing or get more information from the Prostate Cancer Foundation at 1.800.757.CURE (2873).