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Black Men: Get the Facts on Prostate Cancer Screening

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A new report released by the Health and Human Services Department’s, Preventative Services Task Force recommends against so-called PSA tests for men who don’t have symptoms that are “highly suspicious for prostate cancer.”

The recommendation, if adopted after a public-comment period, may prompt insurers to stop paying for blood tests measuring PSA, a protein associated with prostate cancer at high levels. The findings also refocus attention on comparative effectiveness research, work that assesses the benefits of various medical treatments. The research drew criticism during debate over the U.S. health-care law when the same panel in 2009 recommended women should start regular breast cancer screening at age 50, not 40.

If you are an African American man or male of African descent, where are some facts you should now before you decide not to get screened for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the single most diagnosed non-skin cancer among African Americans: 30,870 will be diagnosed this year alone.

While the mortality rate is dropping, prostate cancer is still the second-leading cause of cancer death in African American men. For African American men, prostate cancer deaths are projected to drop 15.4 percent over two years, with an estimated 5,050 deaths in 2005 and an estimated 4,240 deaths in 2007.

Actual death rates for African American men have also been dropping, averaging 64 per 100,000 men in the period from 2000-2003, down 9 percent from an average of 70.4 per 100,000 men from 1997-2001.

For an African American man, the chances of getting prostate cancer are 1 in 3 if you have just one close relative (father, brother) with the disease. The risk is 83% with two close relatives. With three, it’s almost a certainty (97%).

There are no noticeable symptoms of prostate cancer while it is still in the early stages. This is why screening is so critical. Every African American man age 40 or older should resolve to be screened annually for prostate cancer.

Before the advent of early detection through PSA screening, about three-fourths of all prostate cancer cases were found in the late stages. With the widespread use of screening, 88 percent of cases in African American men are now found early.

Nearly 100% of African American men diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer are still alive five years from diagnosis. Of African American men diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, 29% survive five years (not including those who died from causes other than prostate cancer.)

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