In the United States, African American men are not only 64 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer than any other population at risk; they are also more than twice as likely to die from it.

Global concern

Through the African-American Initiative, established  by the Prostate Cancer Foundation in 2013, a number of research teams dedicated to this urgent matter have pinpointed the factors—both biological and environmental—that discriminate against African-American men.

This is one of the most important problems in global oncology. What we’ve also discovered is that this disparity is not unique to African-American men. In fact, it affects any man of African descent. This means that men of African descent living in the Caribbean, Europe or Asia are also at greater risk of developing early and aggressive prostate cancer. The global significance of this issue cannot be overstated.

Timely findings

2015 brought major breakthroughs in prostate cancer precision medicine. Without a doubt, our new understandings of this complex disease bring us closer to ending the suffering and death that prostate cancer patients of African descent face at an alarming rate.

"If we can crack its molecular code, we will have extraordinarily scalable solutions to catch the disease earlier and effectively end prostate cancer."

A pioneering study by Kosj Yamoah, M.D., Ph.D., of the Moffitt Cancer Center, identified six new genetic signatures—called “biomarkers”—linked with the aggressive tumors found in African-American men with prostate cancer. These findings, published in the September 1 issue of Journal of Clinical Oncology, shed a much-needed light on the biological factors that predispose African-American men to this disease earlier than others.

Hope for all

As such, they represent important targets for future drug development. With this provocative new data, we can also work on developing new and increasingly precise diagnostic tools that can catch the aggressive disease at its earliest and most treatable stage.

Though highly promising, this discovery is somewhat of a double-edged sword that carries with it a new, unanticipated problem: We don’t know the function of most of these genes. To address this, we need the requisite funding for a basic scientific understanding how these unstudied genes function.

Breakthrough medicines come only after genes have been studied deeply.  Therefore, investment of resources in this arena and solving this disparity for good must be our next accomplishment. If we can crack its molecular code, we will have extraordinarily scalable solutions to catch the disease earlier and effectively end prostate cancer.