Black Men & Prostate Cancer

By Dianne Anderson Special to the NNPA from the Precinct Reporter The debate rages on in the medical community over  the recent recommendation that doctors stop offering the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test. Black men die from prostate cancer earlier and at twice the rate over every other racial group, and the PSA test helps in early detection. Dr. Sanaa Ligons at the Whitney Young Family Health Clinic in San Bernardino says that the PSA test is one of the first tests she orders for her over-50 male patients. Dr. Ligons explains that “In some populations, where it’s (prostate cancer) not so frequent or so bad, it’s okay not to [PSA] screen, but for African American males, I think we should be screening earlier.” The other alternative–the dreaded Digital Rectal Exam–is often a deal breaker for Black males. Dr. Ligons said the clinic doesn’t use DREs anymore, just the PSA because it is more reliable to detect the cancer. When men get their annual PSA, it’s easier to spot the trend over time. If the protein marker rises, it’s one indicator that he may have the beginning stages of the cancer. With that earlier indicator comes a better chance of survival .But she said patients must also watch for other symptoms. Urination shows the first signs of trouble if the patient sees a slower or weak urine stream, which could indicate prostate enlargement or cancer. Those symptoms could be benign, meaning not cancerous, but no one should take the chance by avoiding the test. Black men are most likely to get and die from prostate cancer, but she said that they are still not getting better about walking into her office, and asking for their PSA tests. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is being criticized for calling to curb PSA testing, particularly since Black men comprise those most at risk of dying from the cancer. However, they reportedly only made up about 4% of the Task Force’s case study. Essentially, medical advocates argue that throwing out the PSA test would be a killer for more Black men. Men’s Health Network (MHN) and the Veterans Health Council also stand strongly opposed to the decision to curb testing, claiming that Vietnam-era veterans were also more at risk from over-exposure to Agent Orange. The group blasted the Task Force for not consulting with the National Cancer Institute, or its studies showing that PSA screening was attributed to a 45-70% decline in death rate, as presented at the annual African American Prostate Cancer Disparity Summit last year. “The recommendation against PSA testing puts men’s lives in jeopardy as they will be discouraged from getting screened for prostate cancer. This especially affects African-American men. In the U.S. alone, 30,000 men die from prostate cancer annually. Early detection is key and PSA testing is the best available tool, reducing prostate cancer mortality by 40% since its inception,” commented Ana Fadich, MPH, CHES, Director of Programs and Health Promotion at MHN. For information on screening, call Whitney Young Family Health Clinic at (909) 386-7600 Or  go to
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