As an Internist over the years I’ve had many conversations centered around men’s health. The one topic that always gets the most attention is prostate cancer. One reason I believe is that many of the diseases we talk about on this platform have tend to cross over into the other gender one way shape or form but prostate cancer is the one that stands alone because women don’t have prostate glands.
This is a topic that is of particular interest to me as I remember one of the first patients in my practice was a 45 year old black male who came in for a routine complaint of back pain that had been troubling him for years. It finally got to the point where the over the counter medications were not enough to deal with the pain so he finally broke down and saw a doctor. Unfortunately, the visit was far from routine as I discovered he was one of many male patients who hadn’t seen a doctor in a long time. After getting some great historical information on him I decided to do order some imaging only to discover that his back pain was due to lesions concerning for cancer.
At 45 years old and after avoiding the care of physicians for a while I had to be the bearer of bad news. After an extensive workup we found out his back pain was due to prostate cancer. The worst part about being a physician is that you typically have to be the bearer of this type of bad news so that’s why we will talk a bit today about the prostate and prostate cancer in black men.
Facts about Prostate Cancer and Black Men
- 37% of all newly diagnosed cancer cases in Black men
- Black men are diagnosed at an earlier age than other groups
- Black men are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced disease when they are diagnosed
- Black men twice as likely to diet from prostate cancer
The Prostate and Its Function: The Unsung Hero of the Male Reproductive System
Just some background information on just what the prostate is. The prostate gland is a small, walnut-sized gland sitting just below the bladder. So despite it’s size it is extremely important which is why when dysfunction occurs we tend to notice it with urinary complaints. It is part of the male reproductive system The primary role is producing seminal fluid, a vital component that helps sperm travel and survive. It is also responsible for transforming the male sex hormone testosterone to a biologically active form, DHT (dihydrotestosterone).
Prostate Cancer: The Unseen Predator
Just like other body parts, the prostate can be affected by cancer. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate start to grow uncontrollably. Sometimes, this growth is slow, posing little risk to the patient. However, other times, these cancer cells can be aggressive, spreading quickly, and if not caught early, can lead to serious health complications. Black men tend to have the aggressive type of cancer which adds fire to the flame because we tend to be diagnosed at a later stage in our life.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
When not getting your routine check up there are classic symptoms that can occur that may lead you to have to get your prostate check and that can include:
- Difficulty starting urination
- Weak or interrupted flow of urine
- Urinating often, especially at night
- Trouble emptying the bladder completely
- Pain or burning during urination
- Blood in the urine or semen
Black Men and Prostate Cancer: A Disconcerting Connection
Here’s a question I often hear: “Does prostate cancer disproportionately affect black men?” The answer, regrettably, is yes. Black men are about 1.7 times more likely to develop prostate cancer and more than twice as likely to die from the disease than white men. These statistics are troubling and highlight the urgent need for more awareness, research, and targeted interventions. When caught in the early stages there is a 97% survival rate which is why its so imperative to get tested early because that survival rate drops to 32% when not caught early.
Causes of Prostate Cancer in Black Men: The Risk Factors
The next question is, “Why are black men at higher risk?” The causes of prostate cancer in men are complex and not entirely understood. It’s likely a combination of genetic factors, lifestyle choices, and socioeconomic conditions. There’s ongoing research into these disparities, but one thing is clear: the need for regular screening and early detection.
Prostate Cancer Diagnosis: Knowledge is Power
You might wonder, “Where do you get prostate cancer diagnosed?” and I am going to keep driving this point home that getting regular check-ups with your healthcare provider is crucial especially since we have specific tests can detect early prostate cancer.
Many of you may have heard of the PSA test which is a blood test that can be done with the rest of your routine blood work. Also, your doctor can perform digital rectal exams in the office to see if there is any abnormality detected even though many just elect to order the blood test.
Treatment and Prevention: A Ray of Hope
While the statistics can seem daunting, it’s important to remember that prostate cancer is treatable, especially when caught early. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and in some cases, careful observation may be recommended.
Prevention is equally crucial. While we can’t control our genetics, making healthy lifestyle choices can make a difference. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can all contribute to overall health and may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Conclusion: The Journey Ahead
The conversation about prostate cancer in black men is complex, but it’s one we need to have. Knowledge is power, and understanding the risk factors, symptoms, and the importance of early detection can save lives. As a healthcare community, we need to do better to address these disparities and ensure that all men have access to the care they need.
So, take charge of your health today. Schedule that doctor’s appointment, start that exercise routine, and make those dietary changes. Your health is worth it.
Keep in mind that this information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your healthcare provider for personal medical advice.