Why African American men are more likely to get prostate cancer

Posted at 8:45 AM, Feb 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-24 22:51:46-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Prostate cancer is killing African American men faster than it's killing men of any other race.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African American men are more than twice as likely to die from the cancer than white men.

Terrance Afer-Anderson understands that statistic personally. The 69-year-old was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010.

"I saw it as a challenge that I was not going to let beat me," he says.

According to the American Cancer Society, African American men are more likely to get prostate cancer than other men. It's reported that one in seven African American men will be diagnosed compared to one in eight white men.

Local doctors have been looking into why the racial disparity exists.

Dr. Joshua Langston, Chief Medical Officer at Urology of Virginia, says, "We're uncovering the genetics of prostate cancer more and more every year, and there are some significant contributions there."

In other words, if your father, brother or uncle have been diagnosed, your risk goes up.

In addition to genetics, the Sentara Health Equity Division is looking at socioeconomic factors.

"A lot of times it's because of lack of insurance. Healthcare is very expensive, and if you don't have insurance, how are you going to pay for that care?" Joel Bundy, Chief Quality and Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, says.

City by city, Greater Hampton Roads reports the highest disparity of prostate cancer is in Portsmouth, followed by Suffolk and Virginia Beach.

It's recommended that African American men get tested as early as 45 years old. The Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test can be taken by a primary care physician, urologist or oncologist. Doctors say that is the first test to see your risk and chances of prostate cancer.

"When it's as simple as a blood test, it makes it even more frustrating on our end that we can't get guys in to just get the blood test, check the number and go from there," he says.

The more well-known exam is known as the Digital Rectal Exam (DREs), during which the Mayo Clinic says a doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum and feels the back wall of the prostate gland for enlargement, tenderness, lumps or hard spots.

Langston says the DRE exam often keeps some men from getting checked.

He says that stigma needs to change so more men stay alive.

"My goal and our goal is to break down every barrier to men seeking care, to getting checked."

Considering the disease shows little to symptoms, awareness and early detection are key.

"The message here has to be, 'You are going to feel fine until it's too late,'" Langston says.

Click here for everything you should know about prostate cancer and what questions to ask your doctor.