The levels of prostate cancer in black men has reached such “epidemic proportions” that the United States Senate last week passed a resolution urging Federal agencies to do more research and education to reduce the incidence of the disease.
Every year, 504 of every 100,000 black men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, and it kills more than 30,000 men each year—a disproportionate number of them black men. Though it is curable when detected early, it is the second most lethal cancer in men.
The Senate resolution was introduced by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and was co-sponsored by Senators Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Ron Wyden of Oregon. All of them except Sen. Akaka are survivors of prostate cancer.
“Prostate cancer is an epidemic – it kills every 16 minutes,” Kerry said. “This disease killed my dad, but I was lucky to beat it ten years ago, and I introduced this resolution in the Senate to bring attention to this silent killer, how it disproportionately affects African Americans, and the need for additional federal investment in prostate cancer research, education and awareness. I’ve been through the battle against prostate cancer and I understand the strain a diagnosis places on the patient and their loved ones.”
The resolution aims to push federal agencies to address the crisis by supporting education, awareness outreach and research focused specifically on how it affects African-American men.
Among the reasons posited by researchers for why it hits black men so hard are possible higher rates of vitamin D deficiency among blacks, and blacks carrying more of the prostate tissues that become cancerous. In 2009, researchers found a higher prevalence of prostate cancer in men of West African descent.
“I understand firsthand the importance of prevention, testing and early detection,” said Chambliss, who also successfully battled prostate cancer. “While prostate cancer affects all men, the National Institutes of Health has found that it disproportionately affects minorities, and African Americans in particular.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is sponsoring research to get at the reasons for the higher incidence and death rates among black men—amid data showing that while the prostate cancer death rate has declined for both white men and African American men in recent years, the disparity in deaths from this disease persists.
According to Cardin’s office, even after accounting for those who lack health insurance, minority racial and ethnic groups face inequities in access and treatment and preventative care. Cardin wrote provisions into the Affordable Healthcare Act that elevated the new Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH in an effort to help eliminate those health disparities.
“Preventive healthcare saves lives, and it is particularly effective in reducing mortality for prostate cancer,” Cardin said.