As an African American male, what are my risks of developing prostate cancer?


This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 1.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Scientific evidence shows that about one-third of those deaths could have been prevented by making lifestyle changes. Smoking, being overweight, lack of exercise, and eating a poor diet — all modifiable risk factors — have been linked to cancer.

Prostate cancer tends to affect older individuals. The median age at diagnosis is 68. Although most of these men die with prostate cancer, not from it, the median age of men who do succumb to the disease is 80. Because many diseases become more prevalent with increasing age, none of this may be particularly surprising.

What may be surprising is that race and ethnicity significantly influence who gets prostate cancer and who dies from it. African American men have, by far, the highest incidence of the disease: they are roughly 1.6 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than whites and 2.6 times more likely than Asian Americans. The gap in mortality rates is even more dramatic — African Americans are more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as whites and about five times more likely to die of it than Asian Americans.

Due to this data, many health care professionals agree to be more cautious when screening African American men for prostate cancer. However, over the last several years, controversy has developed as to who to screen and how. This is an ongoing discussion in the cancer communities, and guidelines will likely be shifting over the next several years. For now, we recommend patients engage in a discussion on the pros and cons of screening with their primary care physician. This may involve a blood test or other exam methodologies to examine prostate itself.

Sources: ancer_in_african-american_men_85,P01245