Changing black men’s attitude towards prostate cancer

National Cancer Institute Ct10qdgv1hq Unsplash
Cancer research (photo: courtesy of the National Cancer Institute)

There is a potential silent killer on the loose on the streets of the UK that disproportionately attacks Black men. This potential invader, prostate cancer, ensures that one in four Black men will end up with this disease at some point in their lifetime, in comparison with other men who have a one in eight chance of getting the disease. This means two things. First, Black men cannot hide from it and, second, Black men need to do the unthinkable, and communicate as well as support each other in addressing this issue. Above all, there has to be urgent changes in attitude among Black men.

One of the factors that make this disease serious is that it can, in the early stages, present little or no signs or symptoms. Very often the prostate cancer cells start to grow in the outer part of the prostate without pressing too much on the urethra, thereby causing no significant symptoms. This helps to explain why many men are unaware of their prostate cancer situation at this early stage. It is often when they experience difficulties urinating or seeing blood in the urine or semen that they realise something is not quite right. Given the higher risk of developing prostate cancer and dying from the disease that is present among Black men, they need to be more active in taking advantage of the medical screening that could save their lives. One of the easiest screening test is the PSA blood test which measures the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. Some doctors may also suggest a digital rectal examination, in which they check for possible swelling and inflammation of the prostate by putting their finger into the anus.

Understandably, some Black men are reluctant and embarrassed to discuss this issue with their friends and family and even less comfortable with going to see a doctor because of the thought of having to carry out tests on their private parts. But more Black men need to step up if this potential silent killer is to be confronted. One way to get this message across is to ensure more culturally appropriate materials are produced so that Black men see images of themselves in pictures, materials and in various forms of advertisements. This means putting posters in places where members of the Black communities congregate on a regular basis such as churches, community centres, shops and Caribbean fast food outlets. It is also important that Black men take part in relevant clinical trials and surveys about prostate cancer. For example, it has been reported that Black men are underrepresented in clinical trials that test new therapies, making up only 6.7 per cent of patients. A PhD thesis by Anne Alagskomah Akolgo (2020) “Black men’s views on prostate cancer screening and information”, suggests that the provision of simplified prostate cancer information and engaging Black men in prostate cancer discussions can increase their awareness of the disease. Some Black celebrities are now beginning to get involved in promoting prostate cancer awareness. For example, Paul Parker, a former professional footballer who was part of England’s 1990 World Cup squad, now fundraises for Prostate Cancer UK, following his father’s recovery from the disease.

While fear and embarrassment are two factors which continue to affect the attitudes of many Black men, communication is key. One Black man who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer felt empowered after he had a chance conversation with another Black man who happened to be at the same hospital where they were both seeing a consultant for their respective prostate cancer treatment. He remarked that he had never previously spoken with another Black man, more so, a perfect stranger, on the subject of their prostate and their balls. What was interesting was the fact that two Black men, at least, had a brief conversation on this topic. What is needed is the continued change in attitude among Black men to ensure increased communication, networking and awareness, that might result in the eventual success in confronting this disease.

Tony Talburt Ph.D. is a senior lecturer at Birmingham City University in the UK. 

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