I was only recently made aware of some startling statistics: one in four black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime; one in 12 will die from the disease. This is double the risk faced by white men in the UK.
Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that 86% of black men are oblivious to the heightened threat prostate cancer poses to their health, putting thousands in danger of being diagnosed at a late stage when treatment options are limited.
The prostate gland is an important component of the male sex system, but 92% of black men don’t know what it does, 62% don’t know where it is and nearly one in five is unaware he even has a prostate.
As a black man, I find these statistics worrying, especially as prostate cancer is a disease that can be successfully treated if caught early enough. Men over 50 and men with a family history of prostate cancer also face a higher than average risk of the disease.
What can we do to make sure more black men understand the added danger they face and take the necessary action that could save their lives?
Although increasing awareness is obviously a vital priority, health professionals can play a crucial role as well. Black men not only face an increased risk of prostate cancer, they are also more likely to develop the disease at a younger age. The PSA blood test is the first step men can take to identify whether anything might be wrong with their prostate; however the test is riddled with complexities and there is still a lot of confusion among GPs as to who is entitled to the test and from what age. Some remain unaware that black men face a higher than average risk and there are a number of black men who report being denied a PSA test from their GP.
The charity Prostate Cancer UK has recently produced a set of consensus statements from a panel of independent clinical experts to help GPs use the PSA test more effectively. As part of this, experts recommend that all men should be able to access PSA testing from the age of 50, but men at higher than average risk of prostate cancer (including black men) should be able to access the test from age 45.
My constituency, Streatham in Lambeth, has one of the highest black populations in the country, which is why this issue is so important to me as their MP. I want to make sure that all GPs, not only in my constituency but across the UK, help to raise awareness of the increased risk of prostate cancer in black men and have the knowledge to initiate these important conversations with the community.
Although we still don’t know why black men face a higher than average risk, my message is clear: with one in four black men being diagnosed with prostate cancer, it is up to us in the community to act. Please speak to your dads, uncles, brothers and friends and make sure every black man over the age of 45 is wise to the risk we face. Don’t let people die from embarrassment. Ignoring prostate cancer won’t beat it.