It’s September, Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, which is an especially important reminder for Black men—who have the highest incidence rate for prostate cancer in the U.S and are more than twice as likely to die as a result of the disease—to schedule an appointment today for a prostate cancer check-up.
“As Black men continue to be at higher risk of diagnosis and death from prostate cancer, continued regular prostate cancer screening beginning at age 40 [is just] practical,” explained urologist Dr. Kevin Billups (Meharry Medical College, Nashville, TN) during the “Family Ties: Blood and Bond” session at our recent Black Health Matters and Kappa Health Summit sponsored by Janssen Oncology, part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
More importantly, if you have a strong familial history of prostate cancer, you need to talk about it. During the Summit, the audience posted comments about how prostate cancer risk was never discussed and therefore, some men may not even be aware of a family history. One person even shared how prostate cancer took the lives of several uncles yet it was never discussed openly. This prompted other attendees to declare that “family secrets shouldn’t kill us.”
According to Dr. Billups, discussions on screenings should start even earlier if there’s a family history and he advises men to get their prostate checked at least 10 years before the age their father was diagnosed.
Another reason regular prostate check-ups are important is that sometimes a person with prostate cancer does not experience any symptoms. This was the case with prostate cancer survivor and patient advocate Robert Young, who also joined the Summit. “Some men may wait until they start to experience symptoms like incontinence, impotence, blood in your urine or semen, but you’ve got to try to detect it before it gets to that point.”
Dr. Billups and Young also recommend asking your doctor for a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) screening during your exam. PSA is a protein secreted by the prostate that is often elevated with prostate cancer. Because of this, these screenings offer a chance of early detection.
“It’s important to know your bloodwork from previous years to see if there has been any major changes,” said Dr. Billups. This was the case for Young, whose PSA levels went from a 4 to a 6 in one year and created a red flag for his doctor. After completing a biopsy, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 47 years old.
Unfortunately, Black men are less likely than white men to be offered the opportunity for PSA testing, so it’s important they are aware of the various options available so they can proactively advocate for their own health.
Dr. Billups also addressed the necessity of a digital rectal exam (DRE) when being screened for prostate cancer and why attempts to avoid a DRE are harmful. “As much as men may feel uncomfortable, a complete evaluation for prostate cancer cannot be done without it because it provides information about the size of the prostate and if there is inflammation or abnormalities.”
To learn more, watch the full session below.
If you or anyone you know is living with prostate cancer, visit https://www.myprostatecancerroadmap.com/ for information and resources.