Prostate Cancer and the African-American Community
Black American men have the highest risk of prostate cancer in the United States. They also have the highest risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer and the highest prostate cancer mortality rates.
There are two predominant theories as to why African-American men have a higher risk of prostate cancer: genetics and health care access. Some doctors believe that genetics play an important role; others believe that limited access to quality health care is to blame. A third theory exists: some doctors believe that a traditional diet which is high in saturated fat causes the higher prostate cancer risk. However, the diets of many Americans, regardless of race, have higher levels of fat than the diets of men of any other nationality. Click to here to read more about prostate cancer risk in the United States.
The most widely-accepted theory of the black men’s higher prostate cancer incidence and mortality rate melds the first and second theories. Genetics (due to melanin levels in the skin) may predispose African-American men, while limited access to quality health care does not catch the disease in earlier stages and does not get these men the best possible treatment.
What Do African-American Genes have to do with Prostate Cancer?
One of the most widely accepted theories is that black men living in North America do not get the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light sufficient for the synthesis of Vitamin D. Adequate levels of Vitamin D seem to have a protective effect against cancer. Since Vitamin D production is somewhat inhibited through higher levels of melanin, black men living in equatorial areas of limited sunlight (such as in the north) may not produce sufficient Vitamin D.
However, African-Americans must be extremely vigilant about this disease. For an African-American man, the chances of getting prostate cancer are 1 in 3 if you have just one close relative (father, brother) with the disease. The risk is 83 percent with two close relatives. With three, it’s almost a certainty (97 percent).
There are no noticeable symptoms of prostate cancer while it is still in the early stages. This is why testing is so critical. Every African-American man, age 40 years or older, should consider annual testing for prostate cancer.
Before the advent of early detection through PSA screening, about three-fourths of all prostate cancer cases were found in the late stages. With the widespread use of screening, 89 percent of cases in African-American men are now found early.
Nearly 100 percent of African-American men diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer are still alive five years from diagnosis. Of African-American men diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, 29 percent survive five years (not including those who died from causes other than prostate cancer.)