Though we’ve made strides in treating prostate cancer, these are the not-so-fun facts about the disease: One new case occurs every 2.4 minutes. And every 19 minutes, a man dies from prostate cancer. One in three men with a family history of the disease will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about six in 10 prostate cancer cases occur in men older than 65. It is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths among men in the United States.
Prostate cancer is also a very slow-growing cancer, with many men who have it dying of other causes.
So in 2011, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, in what it called a move to curb over-diagnosis and over treatment of prostate cancer, issued guidelines recommending against routine prostate specific antigen testing. The uproar over the revised guidelines was particularly not helpful for black men, who face a greater overall risk for the disease than men of other races. They also have the highest risk for aggressive forms of prostate cancer and death.
Black Health Matters sat down with one of the campaign’s ambassadors, Pro Football Hall of Fame member and prostate cancer survivor Michael Haynes (he played for the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Raiders), to talk about the importance of prostate health.
Black Health Matters: Michael, you were diagnosed at a prostate cancer event at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Where you having symptoms that led you to getting tested? If so, what were they?
Michael Haynes: I was screened just because the event was happening. I worked at the NFL at the time and had a physical earlier in the year, so I didn’t have a reason at all to get screened. My boss suggested I participate to encourage some of the other guys to get screened.
What did you know about prostate cancer before your screening?
MH: I’d never even heard of prostate cancer. I didn’t know what the prostate did. The doctor really scared me. He said one in five African American men would be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. The numbers shocked me because nobody’s talking about it. I asked the doctor about women and breast cancer, and he said one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
What did your screening show?
MH: I had cancer in nine of the 12 places where they checked my prostate.
Wow. Tell us about your journey since your diagnosis. What was your treatment? How has it affected your life?
MH: I had a radical prostatectomy. Because we caught it early, I had plenty of time to check out a lot of treatment options. My doctor and my wife and I decided a radical prostatectomy made the most sense. Going through the process was very difficult. Even though the doctors said we caught it early, I was thinking the worst; I was very depressed.
Since your diagnosis and treatment, what have you learned about the risks for prostate cancer? Does it run in your family?
MH: It ran in mine. I didn’t know that. If I had known, it might’ve made a difference in my life. My grandfather had it. I really didn’t have much of a relationship with him. I was a rookie in the NFL when he passed away. But I don’t even know if someone said he’d died of prostate cancer, if it would’ve meant anything to me at the time. We didn’t talk about health much in my family.
When did you decide to become a spokesperson?
MH: After the surgery and I got a clean bill of health, they asked me to be a spokesperson. I said yes because this disease is going to strike a lot of African American men. And because I hadn’t talked to a lot of African American men who knew about the disease. And I knew I’d have a lot of support from the NFL.
What has the response been?
MH: The response has been great. People are saying thank you. When I talk, I speak man to man. That’s what you have to do to get through to a lot of guys. We have to take it out of the back room. Other players have helped—speaking engagements at churches and barbershops, everywhere, to get the word out there. Guys like Harry Carson, Ronnie Lott and Deacon Jones, when they say, “Get up off your couch and get your prostate checked,” people listen. We’ve had a lot of success doing that. Every year we find another player at that event. We’ve had two hall of famers in the last eight months who have been diagnosed.
What do you tell people when you talk to them?
MH: The symptoms could be related to other diseases. [Symptoms like] decreased urine flow, getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, painful orgasm, feeling like you have to go but nothing comes out. They don’t have to be related to prostate cancer, but if you’re having a conversation with your doctor, he’s going to look at that and make sure it isn’t the case.
There’s been a lot of debate about PSA testing and whether or not men need to be screened. Does a high PSA mean you have prostate cancer?
MH: It does not mean you have it. What they’re looking for is a radical spike in your PSA. Mine went from 1 to 3.5 in a two-year period. I’ve talked to guys who’ve had more of a spike than that. The only real way to tell is to have a biopsy. That comes from a conversation with your doctor to decide.
There has been a reduction in the number of men [getting tested] because of the message that’s out there. What we’re saying is know your family history. Know your situation. Have a conversation with your doctor. If it runs in your family, have the conversation with your doctor when you’re young, maybe in your 30s or 40s. But you definitely need to be aware of it. A lot of men are going to have prostate cancer, but it doesn’t have to take their life.
What else do you want men to know about prostate cancer?
MH: Know their risk. I want men who are survivors like me to make a difference by encouraging other men to get educated and to talk about it—if in no other month of the year than September [Prostate Cancer Awareness Month]. I’ve heard stories where the father died, the older brother has had surgery, the younger brother has been diagnosed, but no one’s talking about it. I’ve talked to guys who don’t know where the prostate is.
Women have an advantage because of childbearing. They’re talking about babies and health and how do you feel now. There’s nothing like that, that happens for men. We start talking about health when we’re in our 50s. That is a detriment. That’s unacceptable. Men need to get educated and take their health a lot more seriously.