“The incidence of prostate cancer is over 60 percent higher in African-American men compared to white men, and in terms of mortality, it’s 150 percent higher,” says Thomas Farrington, founder and president of the Prostate Health Education Network (PHEN). “For African-American men, there are issues with treatment, access to treatment and quality of treatment.”
A voice of reason
Farrington was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000 and, while now cancer-free, he has dedicated himself to making sure black men learn more about this deadly disease.
“I’m a 17-year survivor, and I know that the knowledge of these factors is one of the most crucial things in reducing mortality,” says Farrington, who wrote the book “Battling the Killer Within” about his experiences.
How we test
While the prostate-specific antigen test is a non-invasive blood test, not every doctor or insurance carrier makes the test a required part of annual check-ups.
“There’s debate about when men should be tested and who should be screened, and that debate causes a lot of confusion.” Farrington notes that African-American men tend to be diagnosed earlier in life, but men between age 55 and 70 “are very much at risk.”
One factor in the high mortality rate for African-American men is likely their lack of inclusion in clinical trials. “There are a lot of trials in which African-American men are not included, or not included in numbers that would be significant,” says Farrington.
“There are two pieces,” he adds, regarding the oversight. “African-American men aren’t educated about clinical trials and their potential benefits as a treatment option, and the scientific community hasn’t approached this group as aggressively as they could.”
Potential new treatments must be tested in trials to find out if they are generally safe and effective. But trials can only take place if volunteers agree to participate. Simply put, without volunteers, new drugs could not be developed.
Looking into clinical trials after a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, which is one issue Farrington addresses through the PHEN website. “Many men haven’t been asked to join a clinical trial, and it hasn’t been discussed by their doctors,” Farrington says. “We need to get the African-American medical community up to speed and engaged with clinical trials, and make sure the entire African-American community understands the need to engage.”
While the incidence of prostate cancer in African-American men is still disturbingly high, Farrington is optimistic. “The mortality rates are declining faster for black men than white men at this point,” he mentions, “and given how much higher they are, that’s a good thing.”