Black Health Matters Teams Up With Black Fraternities and Barber Shops To Educate The Brothas’ About Prostate Cancer
By Kellee Terrell
It shouldn’t be a secret that African-American men are disproportionately impacted by prostate cancer, the most common cancer in the U.S. next to skin cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, while the diagnosis rate among white, American Indian, Asian or Pacific Islander, and Latino men is anywhere between 49.6 and 90.2 per 100,000 men, for Black men the rate is much higher. For every 100,000 men, it’s estimated will be a whopping 158 new diagnoses.
And when you look at the mortality rates, the news for African-American men is even more serious.
Past studies suggest that Black men are 2.3 times more likely to die from it than their white counterparts. That, and they appear to be more likely to develop an aggressive form of the cancer.
And yet, not enough Black men know what they need to know about this jarring racial health disparity. So to help bridge this persistent knowledge gap, Black Health Matters teamed up with Black fraternities such as Alpha Phi Alpha and Zeta Chi Sigma and, along with health experts to better educate African-American men. They hosted nearly a dozen events in Washington, DC, Baltimore and Atlanta, and the focus was simple: Teach them about the basics of prostate cancer, encourage the importance of getting screened yearly and early, and the benefits of participating in clinical trials.
Black Health Matters Publisher and Founder, Roslyn Young-Daniels shared how she developed the initiative. “Growing up, both my parents were active in organizations that empathized giving-back to the community. My dad was a Lifetime Member of Phi Beta Sigma,” Young-Sanders said.
Adding, “In doing research I learned that Phi Beta Sigma focused on prostate health education which included outreach on prostate cancer. I then learned that all fraternities have a platform for health. It made sense to partner with fraternities to broach the topic of prostate cancer and why clinical trial participation will provide new options for outcomes.”
Daniels then reached-out to barber shops and met barbers that were influential and interested in promoting health information that would be beneficial to their male patrons.
“From a grass-roots perspective we gained the attention of men within a “safe space” for health education that led to candid conversations.”
Environment, Venue & Trust
But when it comes to health literacy and the brothas, in order to make this stick, it was important to house the events in spaces that the participants would feel the most comfortable such as barber shops and around people they trusted with faces that looked like theirs.
For Courtney Souvenir, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the event he helped host in Maryland was eye opening for his frat brothers, who he says with confidence were leaning in and absorbing the information.
“You can tell by people’s body language and the questions they asked afterwards, that they were really impacted by the speakers,” Souvenir said.
“I heard so many men say, ‘I am going to call my doctor tomorrow,” and ‘I’m going to get screened.’ This was the whole point, to get men fired up about their health in a safe space.”
Essentially, when it comes to prostate health, Souvenir is clear: “If we want to be better fathers, husbands, spouses and leaders in our community, we need to make sure we put our health first.”
“It’s up to us. It’s our responsibility.”
Knowledge Is Key
One of the educators at the prostate cancer community health events was Dr. Jackson Davis, a retired urologist from Howard University who also is a survivor himself.
“When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I was initially shocked, but I told myself, ‘If anyone should get this disease, it should be me, given that this is what I do.’ It felt like fate,” David admitted.
Going through a series of radiation treatment, the 74-year-old is now cancer free and continues his work to educating other Black men about what they need to know about prostate health and prostate cancer.
For Davis, it the best way to disseminate the life-saving information and help debunk the existing myths about prostate cancer starts with being relatable and making everyone, regardless of education level, feel like they can understand what’s being said.
The next step is stressing when, why and how to get screened for prostate cancer.
“It’s important to know that while the current screening recommendations suggest for men to start getting screened at 50, but because we’re more likely to be develop prostate cancer, we should start getting screened as early as 40, especially if we have a family history of prostate cancer,” Davis stressed.
“The earlier the detection, the better our chances are to survive the disease,” he added.
In addition, one must know that there are two types of screenings, the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and a digital rectal exam (DRE). While many men may try to pass on the DRE, Davis emphasizes that it’s imperative to get both tests done—it can save tour life.
“Just getting the tests done separately doesn’t have a high likelihood of detecting cancer, but by doing both, it has a 90 percent chance, leading to a biopsy that will eventually be the factor that determines one’s diagnosis,” he explains.
For Souvenir, 48, who gets screened for prostate cancer nearly every year, he wants for men to shake off the stigma and fear of emasculation that comes with getting a DRE in the doctor’s office.
“The first time I had to get one, I was definitely blocking it out, ” he says laughing.
Adding, “But this test isn’t about feeling like less of a man and isn’t about your sexuality. This is about taking control of your health.”
Understanding Clinical Trials
Not surprisingly, if getting screened for prostate cancer is well received by the men in the audience, the idea of partaking in clinical trial is a much harder sell. But it didn’t stop the educators from emphasizing on why it’s so important for African-
American to participate in these trials, especially if they have been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“Not only can clinical trials potentially help us understand why we are so vulnerable to this type of cancer, but to see which treatments work better for us,” Davis says.
However for many, the idea of playing “guinea pig” doesn’t sit too well, and for good reason. Thanks to medical racism including the Tuskegee Experiments and the Henrietta Lacks cervical cells being used without her consent and permission, African-Americans have a cultural mistrust of the medical community. This may be a factor behind why only 2 percent of African-Americans participate in cancer research.
But it’s important to keep in mind, that clinical trials are regulated, safe and have our best interest in mind.
If you or a loved one would like to explore if participation in a research study is an option, see, www.blackhealthmatters.com/clinicaltrials, www.clinicaltrials.gov or for information on a prostate cancer research study sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb: www.bmsstudyconnect.com/prostatecancer.
Remember: Turning our backs on science only stands in the way of our health and healing, especially when it comes to prostate cancer.
SIDBEBAR: Five Things Black Men Need To Know About Prostate Cancer
Dr. Jackson Davis, a retired urologist and prostate cancer survivor offers up these nuggets of knowledge that every Black man needs to know:
- Do The Research: While there is a lot of fake news on the internet, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any trusted and scientifically sound websites to get trusted information. Try reading Black Health Matters, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prostate Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society for scientifically sound and updated date and facts.
- Know Your Family History: Having a relative with prostate cancer, especially a father or brother, can increase your chance of developing the disease as well. So it’s important to ask around, get the information and bring that to your next doctor’s appointment so that your health care provider can fully and accurately access your risk.
- Build A Better Relationship With Your Health Care Provider: It’s important that you trust and respect your health care provider, and that your health provider feels the same way about you. Without trust, it’s hard to be open about what your concerns, especially around your prostate cancer risk and when you should get screened.
- Be An Empowered Patient: Nowadays, many of us only have 15 minutes of face time with our providers, so it’s crucial to be prepared with your questions written down prior to your appointment. That, and be clear that you want to be screened for prostate cancer. And if they brush it off and tell you to wait, it’s completely OK to find a new doctor who will listen to you and your concerns. Remember, this is your body, your health.