5 Reasons Black Men Get Prostate Cancer More Than Others
The facts are indisputable: Black men are likelier to contract prostate cancer and die from it more than any other group of American men.
While 1 in 9 men worldwide will be diagnosed with prostate cancer – the most prevalent cancer for all men – in their lifetime, 1 in 7 men of African descent will develop the disease over that same span. Tragically, African-American men are over 75 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men, and are more than twice as likely to die from it.
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) stated that men of average risk should get screened for prostate cancer by age 50. However, ACS recommended that men in the high-risk category, including African-Americans, get screened by age 45.
While there isn’t a predominant reason why black men develop prostate cancer more frequently and die from it, these 5 factors may show why we get it more than other men.
1. We Don’t Go to The Doctor
Even if men have health symptoms or an injury, about 65 percent of them wait as long as possible before seeing a doctor, according to a 2019 Cleveland Clinic study. The same goes for black men who have a prostate cancer diagnosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when a doctor finds prostate cancer in a black male patient, it is in an advanced state compared to other men.
Additionally, more aggressive forms of the disease are found once black men receive that diagnosis. There are varying reasons why we are reluctant to go to the doctor, but the procedure required for a prostate exam is one of them.
2. We Have Outdated Attitudes About Prostate Exams
The digital rectal exam (DRE) which comprises prostate cancer screening, is why many men don’t go to get checked – this is especially true for us. This 2009 study points out that African-American men associated the digital rectal exam and colonoscopy – which require rectal penetration – with homosexuality
Respondents disliked DREs in particular emphasized that they experienced it as a gay sexual act, according to that same study.
“Men who disliked DREs overlooked the purpose of the exam for their health as they essentialized that part of their body as inherently off limits…When men prioritize their masculinity by resisting an exam involving the rectum, they could risk their health by allowing undetected cancer to grow.”
There is also a stigma around the surgery required to treat prostate cancer. Black men fear the procedure’s impact on their ability to perform sexually and its ability to cause incontinence, observes this Prostate Cancer Foundation report.
Ultimately, these attitudes cause us to lose out because we don’t get the treatment we need. Speaking of missing out…
3. We Lack Access to Quality Healthcare
The lack of access to medical care for black Americans is a problem that spans generations. It also plays into why black men do not get their prostate cancer screenings soon enough or the necessary treatment once a diagnosis is made.
The odds of a black man receiving prostate cancer surgery were a lot lower compared to other American men during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 1 percent of Black men with untreated nonmetastatic prostate cancer underwent a prostatectomy, a procedure to treat prostate cancer, from March to May 2020 compared with 26% of white men, according to a recent study.
One of the major barriers to black men receiving potentially life-saving treatment is the lack of access to health insurance, private or state-sponsored.
This problem is further complicated by the fact that many of us do not engage in healthy behaviors that limit our risk for prostate cancer or its reoccurrence.
4. We Are More Obese and Less Healthy
Black males are more likely to be obese when compared to white men. In addition to a litany of other conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, obese persons, men especially, are more prone to prostate cancer due to poor diet. Overweight patients are more likely to have reoccurrences of prostate cancer.
“Patients often ask what they can do to combat their prostate cancers,” said Dr. Stephen Freedland, director of the Cedars-Sinai Center for Integrated Research in Cancer and Lifestyle. “The number one thing I talk to them about is weight loss. Among lifestyle factors, obesity is by far the strongest and clearest link to an aggressive and ultimately deadly course for this disease.”
Still, there are external factors that make us more prone to suffering from this disease.
5. We Suffer More Trauma and Adversity
It’s no secret that black men seem to face an inordinate amount of adversity over their lifetimes compared to other groups of men, from racial discrimination and violence to financial hardship and polluted environments. These stressors contribute to black men having shorter life spans and being more prone to diseases like heart disease, stroke, and cancers – prostate cancer included.
African-American men are uniquely exposed to high levels of social adversity, such as discrimination, crime, financial strain, and poor resource environments over their lifetime, according to Damali N. Martin of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), who is overseeing a project examining prostate cancer in men of African ancestry.
Further, discrimination can produce a litany of mental and physical ailments, including depression, anxiety, inflammation and high blood pressure – the latter two conditions can lead to recipients developing chronic illnesses.
What’s more, discrimination can cause victims to engage in higher rates of drinking, smoking, illicit drug use, and unhealthy eating – all of which are contributing factors to the development of certain cancers.
What Needs to Be Done
Since black men are more prone to getting prostate cancer and dying from it, it’s crucial that we remain aggressive about getting screened as early as possible.
Being proactive about prostate cancer prevention and treatment means getting educated about it.