When Reggie Jones attended Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration’s health fair over 20 years ago, his tests indicated he should visit a doctor to have his prostate checked as there was a risk of cancer.
Other responsibilities such as taking care of his sick brothers were top of mind, so Jones didn’t follow up on the note until two years later. By then the cancer in his prostate had spread to other parts of his body.
“Now it is in my back,” Jones said. “It was in my groin and my chest. I had hard moments when I was first told it was moving.”
Jones’ experience encouraged him to become an advocate for prostate cancer awareness, encouraging other Black men to undergo screenings. Prostate cancer impacts Black men at a disproportional rate, so undergoing prostate screenings is an important part of health for Black males.
Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said African American males are 60% more likely to develop prostate cancer and 140% more likely to die from it than their white counterparts. In fact, she added, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among African American males.
“Even if the prostate cancer is considered low grade, meaning it’s not as aggressive, [Black men] are still more likely to die compared to other races,” Caine said.
According to Caine, both socio-economic and genetic factors cause the prostate cancer disparity. African Americans, in general, have a higher poverty rate and less access to health care than white Americans and may be less likely to be able to afford cancer screenings. In addition, Black men develop cancer in the interior region of their prostate more often than white men, making it easier for doctors to miss during a biopsy.
A blood test and a physical exam help doctors diagnose prostate cancer in its early stage. Caine noted that some men might feel uncomfortable with the physical examination since the prostate is located between the bladder and the penis, but the additional check is necessary since blood tests occasionally misdiagnose people. The rule of thumb is men should begin testing at age 50, but Caine added those with a family history of prostate cancer should start at age 40.
Increased awareness in recent years has led to more people getting screened early, decreasing the number of Black men with prostate cancer, Caine said. The rate of African American prostate cancer deaths per 100,000 people in Marion County dropped from 68 in 2005 to 40.6 in 2016. In addition, Caine said the current five-year survival rate of African Americans with prostate cancer is 100% when doctors detect the cancer at its early stage. The five-year survival rate is 97% regardless of when the cancer is found.
Jones said his most powerful tool for dealing with prostate cancer is a positive attitude. He meditates to help with stress, volunteers in the community, maintains a healthy lifestyle and spends time with family.
“The most important thing, I think, is going in with a positive attitude, staying positive, have no fear and stay resilient in doing what you are doing,” Jones said. “Don’t give up because you have been diagnosed with cancer. Basically, my philosophy is I’ll kill cancer before cancer kills me.”
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.
Prostate cancer resources
The Rev. Charles Williams Prostate Mobile Unit
The mobile unit is a large bus-like vehicle that visits different events to promote prostate health. The unit features a video, approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with Charles Williams discussing the importance of testing for prostate cancer and an area for a doctor to perform screenings.
To request the unit for an event or inquire about it’s schedule, call 317-221-2086, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Black and Minority Health Fair
As part of the Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration from July 11-21, the heath fair offers several screenings, including prostate screenings, free with admission to the celebration.
For more information, call 317-925-2702, or email email@example.com.
Shalom Health Care Center Inc.
Shalom Health Center offers prostate cancer screenings using a sliding fee scale based on income. For some low-income patients, screenings may be free.
For more information, call 317-291-7422, visit shalomhealthcenter.org, or visit the clinic at 3400 Lafayette Road.
Support Cancer Patients
Looking to support the fight against all cancer, including prostate? Consider attending the 24 Foundation Walk/Ride event from 7 p.m. June 28 to 7 p.m. June 29 at Butler University, 4600 Sunset Ave. Proceeds go to local nonprofits that provide emotional, mental and financial resources for cancer patients.