Prostate Cancer: Educate Yourself in 2009

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When it comes to prostate cancer, no one is harder hit by this disease than African-American men. They have higher incidence rates and at least double the prostate cancer mortality rates than men of other racial and ethnic groups, according to the National Cancer Institute. Prostate cancer is clearly the number one cancer threat for African-American men.

This year (2009) an estimated 192,280 men across the United States will learn that they have prostate cancer. That’s enough guys to fill up the Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands more than twice over. Imagine the Jets and the Giants playing separate weekend pro football games and packing the house for both those games. And from this group, sadly, about 27,300 men (beyond the capacity of some of the nation’s largest pro basketball arenas) will lose their fight with the disease in 2009. Many of these men are African Americans, who have a one in five chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and a one in 20 chance of dying from it. Prostate cancer is the fourth-leading cause of death among African American men over the age of 45. As daunting as these numbers are, they should not provoke fear and anguish. Thanks to over 70 years of scientific advances, we now have many good ways to treat this disease and other cancers.

In the long run, it pays to see a doctor to regularly check prostate health. Women may think this is a male problem and there’s nothing they can do about it.  But in reality, there is something they can do: they can encourage their husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather or significant other to go to the doctor and get checked out.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and our message is simple -- the best thing every man can do for himself is to get educated about the disease. In consultation with their doctors, men can learn about their risks and make smarter decisions if they are ever diagnosed with the disease. Knowledge really is power. But for too many African American men, it’s hard to come by accurate information about prostate cancer.

Where to get information?  Your tax dollars have already paid for a wealth of services and materials that are provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the federal government’s lead cancer research entity.

To obtain information via the telephone, dial NCI’s toll-free Cancer Information Service between the hours of 9:00 am and 4:30 pm at 1-800-4-CANCER. A specialist will be waiting on the other end of the line to answer any questions. CIS information specialists have access to comprehensive, accurate information on a range of cancer topics, including the most recent advances in cancer treatment. They are skilled in explaining medical information in understandable terms and the service is confidential.

You can also access a variety of helpful publications from these sources, such as the popular “Understanding Prostate Changes” booklet.

We also recommend that you take some time to learn about clinical trials and whether they are right for you. Information is available by visiting the NCI’s clinical trials portal page, at http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials. Clinical trials are critical to our ability to eliminate prostate cancer disparities. Yet among men who have cancer and are 30 to 59 years old, a markedly lower percentage of African-American men than white men participate in clinical trials. An important way to learn about cancer’s causes and how the disease works in different segments of the population is to improve the representation of minorities in cancer clinical trials. If more African Americans participate in clinical trials, it can help us solve some of prostate cancer’s mysteries, particularly when it comes to African-American men.

Don’t let this month pass you by without arming yourself with knowledge about prostate cancer. We’ve heard it said that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. That may be true in some areas of life, but not when it comes to prostate cancer.  What you don’t know can kill you. Take the time now to educate yourself for life.

The National Cancer Institute is the nation’s cancer research agency. For more information about cancer research and resources, visit www.cancer.gov or call toll-free 1-800-4CANCER.

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