Although the rate of cancer deaths among African Americans has been declining since 1990, this racial group remains the most likely to be diagnosed with and die from cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). In fact, ACS scientists predict that, among black Americans, there will be 202,260 new cancer cases and 73,030 cancer deaths in 2019.
Harry Lennix, the distinguished film, television, stage actor and producer currently staring in the 7th season of NBC’s The Blacklist, wants to spread the word about the importance of getting screened for prostate cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects African Americans. As the ACS notes, prostate cancer has a five-year survival rate of 99 percent when caught early.
“We love the men in our lives,” said 54-year-old Lennix, who was in films like “Man of Steel’” and TV shows including “Billions”, “I love my brothers and I love my friends. These are personal relationships, and I want those people in my life as often and as long as I can have them, so that’s why it’s so important for me.”
“It hits close to home”
In his nearly 40-year acting career, Lennix has witnessed the toll prostate cancer has taken on his friends, colleagues, and family members with the disease.
“It hits pretty close to home, and the science says 1 in every 6 black men are diagnosed with prostate cancer,” he said. “They’re more than twice as likely to die of the disease [compared to white men]. But we know with early detection, it’s almost 100 percent treatable — it’s remarkable. But you can’t access those strategies without knowing your numbers.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men aged 55-69 should consider getting screened for prostate cancer. To get screened, your doctor will measure a substance called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood to determine your risk. Although an elevated PSA level may signal health issues unrelated to cancer, your doctor can determine whether a biopsy is a necessary next step to determine whether you have prostate cancer.
“One in 9 men in general will be diagnosed,” Lennix said. “This is life or death, and I’m interested in doing whatever I can, using whatever platform I can, to see if we can save some lives.”
“Putting on your big-boy pants”
Because of the heightened risk African Americans face, Lennix said it’s especially important for these men to discuss their prostate cancer risk with their loved ones and healthcare providers. Lennix himself said his older brother told him about his own screening.
“I was sort of prepared for it — that’s why communication is so important,” said Lennix, who suggested requesting a screening while getting your flu shot or during your annual physical. “There’s nothing bad that can come from getting tested early.”
Because of the location of the prostate, which is between the penis and the rectum, many men are embarrassed or afraid to have the conversation with their healthcare providers, according to a review published in November 2017 in PLoS One.
But Lennix encouraged men to overcome any feelings of shame or fears of stigma in service of their health. After all, he said, the conversation about prostate cancer with your healthcare provider isn’t a matter of if — but when.
“It’s about putting on your big-boy pants, no matter how uncomfortable it is to talk about it, and going through the processes of trying to avoid it,” he said. “It’s way more preferable to do those things than to actually have to fight this insidious disease.”
Melinda Carter, [email protected]