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Mr. 80 Percent

Prostate cancer in Black men

Black men are far more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men and twice as likely to die from the disease. What’s not so obvious is why.

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That prostate cancer is a scourge in the Black community is clear. African-American men are far more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men and twice as likely to die from the disease.

What’s not so obvious is why prostate cancer discriminates in this way. Medical experts believe genetic susceptibility and diet are factors in Black men developing the disease, but what explains the increased mortality rate?

One explanation is that many African-American men don’t know they’re at risk, and as a result don’t get their PSA checked as early or often as they should. The consequence, according to doctors, is that when Black men do finally get screened, they’re likely to have later-stage prostate cancer that’s less treatable than if it was detected earlier.

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But in addition to when prostate cancer is diagnosed, how it’s treated, if at all, can influence mortality rates. For example, studies have shown that, in relation to white men, Black men are less likely to have health insurance and less access to high-quality health care, which may explain, in part, the disparity in the number of deaths from prostate cancer in Black and white men.

While it’s true that PSA screening can lead to overtreatment, the American Cancer Society nonetheless recommends that men at least begin discussing it with their doctor starting at age 50, and sooner for African-American men.

Because Black men are at such high risk of developing prostate cancer, the ACS recommends they talk to their doctor about PSA screening at age 45, especially if they have a first-degree relative (father or brother) who was diagnosed at an early age (younger than age 65). If they have more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age, they should think about screening at age 40.


Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.