By Ronald Wells, Jr.
Hello, friends and advocates of good health! November is a special month for many reasons, and it’s not just because of the beautiful fall colors or the meals we share with family.
It’s also the month when we spotlight the critical issue of prostate cancer awareness, and I’m here to have a heart-to-heart with my fellow Black men (and women) about why this matters so much to us. Like many in our community, I come to you as someone whose family has been impacted by cancer.
My cousin William was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer one month after he turned 40 in 2016. He passed away the month after that. A few years later, in remembrance of him, I joined Ohio Partners for Cancer Control (OPCC) which is a statewide cancer coalition of various stakeholders that work collaboratively towards reducing the impact of cancer in Ohio. Now, as Chair-elect of OPCC, I focus on bringing a health equity lens and ensuring we have real strategies to address health outcomes in Black communities.
Conversations about health, especially prostate cancer, can be challenging. Yet, we need to have them, for ourselves, our loved ones, and the future we’re building. The earlier we can find the strength to have these conversations, the better. That’s the message I want to share with you today.
We must continue to be aware that prostate cancer is a real and significant threat to our community. It’s the second leading cause of cancer death in men and statistics show that Black men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than men of any other race.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not worried about that.” But that’s the kind of thinking that we need to challenge. We have a legacy to uphold, a rich history filled with strength, resilience, and doing what’s necessary to build the lives we want. But to keep that legacy, we must take care of ourselves, mind and body.
Now, let’s break down prostate cancer screening and why it’s so important. First, the most common and straightforward test for prostate cancer is a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test. That’s it, a simple blood test. Early detection is the name of the game for prostate cancer. This is because it often creeps in quietly, showing no symptoms until it’s advanced.
Symptoms like frequent urination, blood in the urine, or back and hip pain might be a sign that the cancer has already spread. Black men should look to get screened starting between ages 40-45, especially if they have a family history of prostate cancer. Starting around 40 is like getting a baseline PSA (since you’re younger and more likely to have normal levels) and doctors will have something to compare to future screenings. Regular screenings can catch it early, when it’s more treatable, potentially saving your life.
Unfortunately, many physicians are not up to speed on the current landscape of prostate cancer screenings. This is a racial equity issue in healthcare and is beyond the scope of this column. Just know that there hasn’t been much urgency to reduce the death disparities from prostate cancer. Therefore, it’s up to YOU to bring up screening with your doctor.
Friends, when we prioritize our well-being, we set an example for our families and friends. We show them that our lives and our presence in theirs matter. Sometimes, the changes of our bodies are frightening and we can’t let fear stand in the way of taking control of our health.
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, once wrote, “Reckon with the past to make a different future.” The past has shown us the stats but we have the power to build a healthier future. I urge you to see your doctor this November and schedule that prostate cancer screening. Let’s break the silence and spread awareness. Stay strong, my friends, and let’s make a difference this November and beyond.