September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness month – a time to encourage men to go to the doctor and get tested for the potentially deadly disease.
It could be even more critical for African American men, who are much more likely to get the disease and die from it than any other group.
Bishop Louis Spencer is a 10 year prostate cancer survivor.
“Diabetes saved my life,” he said.
He rarely went to the doctor, but had to have frequent blood tests for his diabetes.
“There were no signs and there was no pain nothing to feel it just crept up on me,” Spencer said.
During those tests, his doctor also checked his PSA levels, a common blood test that led to his cancer diagnosis and successful treatment.
“About 90 percent of men will be cured of their prostate cancer,” Dr. James Mohler of Roswell Park Cancer Institute said.
His race alone put Spencer at a higher risk.
“Black men living in America have the highest rate of prostate cancer on the international spectrum,” Dr. Jacques Ganem, a urologist, said.
That rate is sixty percent higher, and black men are twice as likely to die from it than any other ethnic group.
Dr. James Mohler discovered a possible reason why.
He found that levels of androgen receptor proteins are higher in the prostates of blacks than in whites, which may impact cancer growth.
That information could help researchers develop better treatments.
“By unlocking the racial differences in prostate cancer aggressiveness will allow us to help all men with aggressive prostate cancer,” Dr. Mohler said.
Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte is among facilities in the North Carolina seeking funding for a research center for prostate cancer and its impact on African-American men.
The center would provide screening, treatment and followup counseling in a geographic area with one of the highest incidence of prostate cancer deaths in the country.
“We’ll have all those options, all those experts under one roof and they can consult one another to based on an individuals circumstances what works best for him,” said Spencer Lilly, president of Carolinas Medical Center.
The plan is to partner with a local university to process data.
“Our findings should inform policy it should set the tone for how we should address this matter in the future,” said Dr. Dianne Bowels, a researcher at Johnson C. Smith University.
Important information for patients like Spencer, and those diagnosed in the future.
In the meantime, doctors recommend that black men begin getting yearly prostate cancer screenings around age 40 and that other groups begin no later than 50.