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Prostate and Urological Health

Actor Harry Lennix Wants African American Men to Take Their Prostate Health Seriously

“I’ve lost friends to it,” said Lennix, who stars on NBC’s “The Blacklist.” “I’ve also met many men who’ve been treated when it was caught early.”

According to The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), black men are 76 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than men of other ethnicities. They’re also 2.2 times more likely to die of the disease and are 23 percent more likely to present with advanced/metastatic disease.  

Researchers aren’t sure why black men have higher incidences of prostate cancer, but research shows many factors lead to disparities for African American men with the disease, including having longer wait times between diagnosis and treatment, having more side effects, and experiencing higher costs of care over time.

Lennix, the 2019 ambassador for PCF’s annual “Know the Numbers” campaign, is helping to raise awareness about the disease. He wants all men, especially African Americans, to learn about prostate cancer, reduce their risk for developing it, and detect it early.

Early detection

Over 3 million men in America have prostate cancer. On average, 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime. When it comes to African American men, 1 in 6 will be diagnosed with it.

Early detection is critical.

“This disease is 99 percent treatable if caught early,” Lennix said.

The actor, who turns 54 in November, encourages men to understand their risks and to be proactive about their prostate health. Some of his best tips include not eating charred meats, not smoking, exercising often, and getting screened regularly over age 40.

The screenings are simple. A blood test called a PSA measures levels of a man’s prostate-specific antigen in his blood. If levels are elevated (higher than a 3 or 4), a doctor may order more tests and/or a biopsy.

The doctor may perform a digital rectal exam known as a DRE, by inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into the patient’s rectum and pressing toward the front of the body to feel the prostate. An enlarged or irregularly shaped prostate is an indicator of the disease.

Fighting stigma

Advocacy is nothing new for Lennix, who has championed people and causes throughout his life. He says it dates back to when he learned about service while attending high school in Chicago.

“I’ve always felt motivated to be of service in some way or advocate,” he said, concluding, “I think it’s important that we all do what we can.”

Now he’s sharing the early detection message in public service messages, media interviews, and on social media. He hopes to reach a wide audience and help men talk about the disease. He wants to remove the stigma that prostate cancer is a private matter or that it conflicts with a man’s masculinity.

“It’s one of those things we could actually be optimistic about if we could just get past the stigma and go get checked,” he said.

Lennix says men are sometimes scared to go to the doctor, fear getting tested, and would rather not know their risks. But that’s not the best approach.

“Ignoring it, hoping it’ll go away certainly isn’t going to cure anything,” said Lennix, who gets a yearly prostate exam and makes sure his male family members do as well. “There’s no reason to not get tested. There’s every good reason to do it.

“Do it for your family, if not yourself. Do it for somebody you care about. Because you’re important.”

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