It's a Man's World: Conquering Prostate Cancer

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African–American men have the highest incidence of prostate cancer in the world––twice as high as their white counterparts. Every year, nearly 35,000 Black men are diagnosed with the disease and 6,000 die. It is the second most prevalent cancer in African–American men.

Rev. Ray McKissic joined the ranks of prostate cancer survivors earlier this year. Though the Pine Bluff, Arkansas, native is undergoing treatment and doing well, the disease killed his father and two of his brothers.

Why are Black men so susceptible? Their culture, dietary choices and lifestyle patterns play a significant role. Typically, men think if they feel fine and have no symptoms, they are healthy; most won’t go to a doctor unless they are really ill. Many are not aware of the subtle bodily clues that might indicate a health problem.

Nor are they aware of prostate cancer’s risk factors:

  • diets high in saturated fat
  • lack of exercise
  • obesity

The prostate gland, an essential part of the male reproductive system, is the only organ in the body that produces an enzyme call prostate specific antigen (PSA). Physicians can determine if an African–American man has prostate cancer by measuring the PSA level in his blood. A level of less than 4 is normal, 4–10 is borderline; higher PSA levels may indicate cancer or other prostate problems. In addition to PSA testing, Black men should have a digital rectal exam so physicians can check for abnormalities.

Every African–American man should have a PSA test and digital rectal exam yearly after age 40, says Terry Mason, MD, a prostate cancer specialist. Those with a family history of prostate cancer should be tested beginning at age 35.

Yearly exams, plus these lifestyle changes, will help prevent prostate cancer:

  • eating a high–fiber, low–fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • exercising at least 20 minutes a day, three times a week
  • not smoking
  • reducing alcohol consumption

Dr. Fred Parrot, whose father died of prostate cancer, was diagnosed with the disease in 1994. After he was treated successfully, he founded Real Men Cook, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about men’s health issues. The group sponsors luncheons nationwide and recruits medical experts to present health topics in lay language.

Dispelling myths is an important part of the group’s mission. For example, many men wrongly believe prostate cancer can be caused by an injury to the genitals or masturbation. Some fear the loss of their manhood if they recover; others think prostate cancer is an instant death sentence.

A test called the Gleason score shows what type of cancer cells are present. If a man’s cancer cells look like regular prostate cells, they are referred to as "well differentiated" and usually grow more slowly. Poorly differentiated cells don’t resemble prostate cells at all and tend to grow quickly.

If the cancer is growing slowly, physicians can try different treatments; rapidly multiplying cells must be treated more aggressively, often with a combination of medications or radiation. Surgery is usually the last resort because it can cause impotence or incontinence. The treatment course depends on a man’s age, type of cancer cells and how much the disease has spread.

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