‘He Got My Attention’: NFL Hall of Famer Uses His Experience with Prostate Cancer to Spread Awareness of the Disease Affecting Black Men at Higher Rates

A new 2021 study from the American Urological Association found prostate cancer is affecting more Black men than last year: now the ratio is 1 in every 6 Black men will have an encounter with the disease.

Prostate cancer develops when the prostate gland becomes cancerous, a condition that can lead to the cancer cells multiplying and metastasizing cancer throughout the body.

Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Haynes, 68, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and admittedly did not know very much about the disease or tests related to it upon his diagnosis.

Haynes, a former cornerback with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders, recalls a visit to his doctor when he learned of his diagnosis. “When he said African-American men are more likely to get it and die from it because they find out in the later stages, he got my attention,” said Haynes.

Haynes’ cancer was discovered in its early stages, thus it was treatable. He now spends part of his time spreading awareness and encouraging other men to get tested for prostate cancer early before it is discovered too late.

Dr. Ronald Anglade is a urologist. He laments, “Generally, men don’t usually like to talk about their health. … We’re pretty quiet about it.”

Dr. Anglade describes prostate cancer as a silent cancer because men often don’t know they have it until symptoms develop which can include trouble urinating, erectile dysfunction, blood in the urine or semen or decreased force in the stream of urine. Dr. Anglade recommends regular prostate cancer screenings including the PSA test and digital rectal exam.

“The PSA, the prostate Specific Antigen test, is not a prostate cancer test per se. If you do a PSA it doesn’t mean if it’s elevated you have prostate cancer, it’s just a tool for us to determine if further tests are necessary,” said Dr. Anglade.

The American Urological Association recommends men should consider prostate cancer screenings between the ages of 55 to 69, but for men at higher risk, including African-American men, screenings should begin at age 40.

Answering why African-American men are at higher risk for prostate cancer is not so clear-cut, says Dr. Anglade, but he emphasized that family history influences the likelihood of getting the disease.

Reggie Tucker-Seeley is the vice president of health equity for the nonprofit organization ZERO — The End of Prostate Cancer. He points to a long history of racial health disparities including access to quality health care.

“Those social resources are racially patterned, so given that they are racially patterned, African-Americans are more likely to have fewer of those resources, so thinking in terms of financial resources, social resources, access to care,” Tucker-Seeley said.

Tucker-Seeley says since the COVID-19 pandemic exposed broader health disparities, more people in the health care and government sectors are taking a closer look at the issue, which offers signs of hope.

“Hopefully, now we can garner a lot more support to focus on solutions. How do we start to address the reasons Black and brown people across the prostate cancer continuum have poorer outcomes compared to their white counterparts,” Tucker-Seeley.

As health care advocates work to address health disparities, for prostate cancer survivors like Haynes, advocacy means using his platform to encourage more Black men to be proactive about their prostate health.

“I’m glad I get to talk to guys about it, and I hope that other athletes and actors and musicians and people like that who are also impacted by this disease that they’ll do the same,” Haynes said.

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