Thomas A. Farrington
President, Prostate Health Education Network, Inc.
The racial disparity in U.S. prostate cancer cases is the largest for any type of major cancer for men or women. African American men have an incidence rate for this disease that is more than 60 percent higher and a mortality rate more than twice than that of white men and men of all other racial and ethnic groups.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among all men, and it is estimated that approximately 30,000 African American men will be diagnosed with the disease in 2020 and more than 5,000 will die from it. All African American men are designated as being at high risk for prostate cancer.
Studies have shown that African American men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer at an earlier age than other men. In fact, almost all detection testing guidelines recommend African American men begin the early detection process for prostate cancer at an earlier age than men of other races and ethnic groups. However, studies still show that African American men are more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced form of the disease, which is incurable.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, prostate cancer early detection screening and most treatments have been curtailed by primary care doctors and cancer centers. While prostate cancer is, for most men, a slow-growing disease, the treatment for which can be delayed for months without too much risk, African American men likely face much higher risk in delaying early detection and treatment.
Recent studies show an increase in the number of men being diagnosed with advanced disease, after more than a decade where this number had been declining. Many blame the controversy over early detection prostate specific antigen (PSA) for this.
Whatever the reason, a delay in early detection testing caused by COVID-19, coupled with more advanced disease upon diagnosis, means trouble for those men most at risk for prostate cancer – African American men.
As the United States emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, a threat arises for a disproportionate number of African American men who will be diagnosed with and die from prostate cancer, escalating an existing crisis.
Prostate cancer medical providers should be aware of this added risk and make adequate provisions. Also, I urge all African American men 40 years of age and older to initiate early detection testing.