Rates in the Black Male Population
African American men are 60 percent more likely to get prostate cancer than whites. They're also twice as likely to die from it than any other group. For years those numbers puzzled researchers, but scientists have made a discovery that may help explain why the risks are so high.
After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Percy Smith knew he wanted to volunteer for the hospital where he was treated. He says he's alive today partly because of the treatment he received at the hospital and partly because of his wife. Knowing African Americans are at a greater risk for prostate cancer, she insisted he get checked.
"She never understood it, I never understood it. I asked doctors and they say they didn't know why,” said Percy.
But now, for the first time they just might ...
Doctor Jim Mohler of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo has discovered a crucial difference in the prostates of African Americans.
All men have what are known as androgen receptor proteins - they are the receptors for the hormones that regulate male traits like facial hair and baldness. But Doctor Mohler has found that the levels of those proteins are 22 percent higher in the prostates of African Americans than in whites. And even more striking, they are 81 percent higher in the prostate cancers of African Americans.
"So what this suggests is that the prostate of an African American can be thought of to be in a 'revved-up' state where it's being stimulated to grow and perhaps develop cancer because of greater stimulation,” said Doctor Mohler.
But the over-expression of that protein could lead to more than just cancer - Doctor Michael Wong says it could also lead to the development of new treatments if doctors can pinpoint when the protein becomes active and why.
"Knowing that, we can use that and exploit that to have better therapies, better treatments. We can use that to help us find the cancers for earlier diagnosis,” said Doctor Wong.
If prostate cancer is caught early, it can often be treated successfully. It worked for Percy, which is why he is now committed to working for the hospital that played a part in saving his life.
Most men are encouraged to start having prostate screenings around age 50. However, experts recommend African American men begin testing at age 45.