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African American males more likely to die from prostate cancer

Health care disparities remain a problem some experts say
Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 7:26 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Prostate cancer is a serious problem in the U.S., including in Louisiana and African Americans are more likely to die from the disease.

Men are uniquely at risk for that type of cancer.

William Robinson founded the Black Men’s Health Initiative after something his father experienced.

“The way I found out about it is that at age 40 my dad who had been partially paralyzed started urinating blood and it was because his prostate had enlarged so much it was squeezing off his urethra,” said Robinson.

That led Robinson to get checked out himself and to create the Black Men’s Health Initiative where he serves as director.

“I was fine, but I said given what my dad had experienced which really scared me I wanted to make sure that there was an effort, we put together an effort to go out and educate black men about their risk for prostate cancer,” he said.

Dr. Pia Chowdry of the Hematology/Oncology section at LSU Health New Orleans shared her expertise on prostate cancer.

“Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the prostate gland, which is this small, walnut-sized gland found in men that basically produces seminal fluid and helps transport sperm,” said Chowdry.

She also spoke about the incidence of that type of cancer in the nation and in Louisiana.

“The incidence rate in the U.S. is about 105 out of 100,000 men. In Louisiana, that rate is even higher. It goes up to about 130 out of a hundred thousand men, making it the most common cancer diagnosed in Louisiana today,” said Chowdry.

And among African American males the incidence of the disease is worse.

“Now, for African American men the incidence is even higher both in Louisiana and in the United States. It’s estimated that about 1 in 6 African American men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lifetime compared to about 1 in 9 or 1 in 10 white men. In fact, African American men are more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier age and almost twice as likely to die from the disease,” said Chowdry.

Chowdry was asked about the reason for the disparity related to prostate cancer in blacks and whites.

“I think the reasons are multi-factorial. We know that African American men tend to have more aggressive types of prostate cancer and the biology of their tumors are different. There are heredity factors and genetic conditions though these are rare that can also affect outcomes,” she said.

She said lifestyle and environment can be factors as well.

“Like poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, these all play a significant role. And then one can’t discount socio-economic and health care disparity factors such as access to care and ability to see a doctor to discuss proper screening. And African American men also have a disproportionately higher rate of other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and these all can affect cancer survival and cancer outcomes,” said Chowdry.

Robinsons agrees.

“Are you getting enough exercise to keep your body in shape, to keep it as we say, your body should operate like a Maserati but if you keep putting junk in the gas tank, you’re going to get bad health outcomes,” said Robinson. “The other piece was how we were being treated when we access the health care system.”

Robinson says the Black Men’s Health Initiative started by focusing on places where black men are known to frequent.

“We came up with the idea of this one place where black men have frank conversations about anything uninterrupted and that’s barbershops,” said Robinson. “We couldn’t be there every day to talk to all the patrons, so we would kind of train the barber in a way and increase their awareness and then we had a packet of materials that we would hand out to the patrons, the barbers.”

He says the Black Men’s Health Initiative created a model that is being used around the country. And Robinson thinks there should be policy changes nationwide to eradicate health disparities.

“Nationally, that’s what I think we need to do, move from this identifying to eliminating, to a commitment to eliminate health disparities,” said Robinson.

Chowdry says prostate cancer does not have to be a killer.

“When confined to the prostate, prostate cancer is highly curable,” she said.

And Robinson has a message to men who are reluctant to get screenings and prostate exams.

“If you love life you got to get it done and get it done early,” said Robinson.

Chowdry says it is important to discuss timing for screenings with one’s physician.

“As a practicing physician here, if you’re an African American male I would certainly discuss PSA testing around age 40 to 45 because you’re by definition at a higher risk,” she said.

The prostate-specific antigen test is a blood test.

Doctors also perform rectal exams to determine prostate health.

“That’s a physical exam technique that doctors use to basically palpate the prostate,” said Chowdry. “That is probably less sensitive, in terms of, determining your risk for prostate cancer. I would say the better test would be the blood test. The two of them can help give you a better picture.”

“Get it done, be on the ball because we love you brother,” said Robinson.

Chowdry says research is underway into the differences in tumors seen in African Americans and non-black males.

“There’s actually a lot of research being done today in deciphering exactly how their tumors differ from that of non-African American men and how to address environmental and modifiable risk factors to sort of change the outcomes,” said Chowdry.

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