African Americans, Prostate Cancer & Doctor Trust

In October 2018, I attended the Prostate Cancer Today conference in Virginia, sponsored by Prostate Cancer International. While it was the only the 2nd annual conference, it had well over 200 participants with several big-name sponsors. There were many breakout sessions to choose from, and there was one that grabbed my attention. It was called African Americans and Prostate Cancer.

Unfortunately, this session was in the smallest room and attended by the fewest people. The moderator also noticed this. He said, “Look around and notice all of the empty chairs. Why are these chairs empty? Because when it comes to prostate cancer, most of us are in the ground already! We get it the most.”

Listening to others' stories

This session was not driven by PowerPoint presentations. Stories were told. This session started with the moderator discussing his own bouts with prostate cancer (PC).

He was followed by a gentleman who described a situation where a doctor allowed a resident to perform a procedure on him that left him with a punctured colon. The hospital initially apologized, but when he took the matter to the state level, the hospital flipped and said the incident never happened. While the doctor “retired” soon after, the incident was eventually dropped.

How many other African American men experienced something like this when they went in for treatment? Stories like this make it into the community, and this may be one of the reasons why African American men avoid getting medical treatment.

Prostate cancer's effect on families

Another topic that came up revolved around a discussion on the prevalence of PC in African American men. Another gentleman spoke from the heart and described his personal experience with prostate cancer and how it affected his family through uncles, cousins, and brothers.

He said that when it comes to PC and Black men, “It does not fit the normal playbook.” He was pretty much asking, Why does PC appear in African American men with such a high frequency? He then suggested that there needs to be a different set of guidelines for African American men for testing, screening, treatments, and surgeries.

Research shows that African American may have a genetic variation that could tip the scales unfortunately in our favor for developing PC. There could be other environmental factors at work as well.1

The value and importance of the PSA

Additionally, the moderator recalled a situation where he was working with the national task force on PC. For whatever reason, the task force decided not to recommend the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test as a part of the screening process. Luckily, the moderator and his group voiced their opposition and were able to get the task force to put the PSA test back in as an option, but it was no longer recommended.

While some doctors are moving away from the PSA, I think it’s an easy test to perform along with the digital rectal exam (DRE). These 2 tests could possibly aid in the early detection of PC for African American men. As a matter of fact, the PSA and DRE should be promoted in the African American community as a part of the screening process for PC.

Caring for yourself

The conference session ended with a brief discussion on looking at what we could do for our own personal wellness. Yes, we have to eat better, exercise, and try to reduce our stress levels. These are great ideas, but in the end, we will have to go to the doctor for general health screenings. We all hope the doctor truly has our best interests in mind.

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