How Clinical Trials Aid African-Americans’ Fight with Prostate Cancer
Prevention & Treatment Tom Farrington was 55 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000. His diagnosis came just three months after his father had died from the disease.
“I didn’t have a sense of the genetic connection,” Farrington says, acknowledging both his grandfathers died from prostate cancer, too. Farrington quickly educated himself and realized he and other African-Americans have statistically higher rates of prostate cancer than men of other races.
“Black men are diagnosed at rate 60 percent higher than all other men,” he says, noting genetics are a predominant factor.
There’s a sizable disparity between the prostate cancer incidence and mortality rates for black and white patients as well. In the African-American community, per 100,000 men each year there are 214.5 rates of incidence, with 46.3 rate of mortality. In comparison, white rates of incidence are 130.4 with a mortality rate of 19.8.
Becoming an advocate
These statistics motivated Farrington, a married father of three and grandfather of three, to do something to help fellow African-Americans with prostate cancer. “People can learn from my experience,” he says.
“‘Silence kills when it comes to prostate cancer.’”
Just after finishing dual radiation cancer treatment, he released his first book on prostate cancer: “Battling the Killer Within.” Then in 2003, Farrington founded and became president of the Prostate Health Education Network (PHEN), educating patients and families about the disease, treatments and clinical trials.
Shouting above stigma
Talking about prostate cancer can increase awareness. Too often, however, it’s a taboo subject. “Men are reluctant to talk about it, simply because the prostate is a sex organ,” says Farrington, explaining the stigma also results from the way treatments can impact a man’s sexual performance or cause impotence.
That’s why he’s encouraging men, especially African-Americans to talk about the disease. “Silence kills when it comes to prostate cancer,” says Farrington. “Being silent will preclude your understanding of what your options may be.”
That stigma prevents men from getting regular prostate exams. In such cases, if cancer is detected, it’s often a late diagnosis, meaning the prostate cancer is more advanced than if it would be it had been identified earlier.
How clinical trials help
Clinical trials can help doctors find ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancers. Yet many African-Americans with prostate cancer don’t participate in clinical trials because they don’t know about them, or because they’re scared. Part of PHEN’s advocacy is encouraging more patients to get involved in clinical trials.
“More treatments and therapies are really focused on using a genetic profile to determine the most effective treatment,” says Farrington. “As you move towards this personalized type of medicine, African-American men are not involved in some of these clinical trials.”
Without participation by African Americans in clinical trials, doctors won’t have the ability to pinpoint prostate cancer similarities and differences among black patients. “We really won’t know which of these therapies work best and which don’t work,” says Farrington, who urges black patients to be informed about their prostate cancer and their treatment options, including clinical trials. “Really understand your disease.”