Black men are nearly two times more likely to die from prostate cancer than any other ethnic group. So when a federal agency cited several studies of mostly white American and European men to recommend against screening for prostate cancer, some St. Louis doctors challenged the decision.
“We worry that we’re going backwards,” said Dr. Arnold Bullock, a urologic surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and member of the Prostate Cancer Coalition. “Prostate cancer’s the most common cancer in African-American men, and still kills around 30,000 men a year in the U.S.”
In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against PSA screenings for prostate cancer, due to high rates of false positive results and the risks of over-treatment. Some types of prostate cancer are slow growing, and can be actively monitored by a physician without hurting the patient’s chances of survival, Bullock said. But the coalition urges men to follow guidelines by the American Cancer Society, which say men should talk to their doctor about the pros and cons of of a PSA blood test based on their individual risk — including age, ethnicity and family history.
Retired Major League Baseball all-star Ken Griffey Sr. visited St. Louis on Thursday to lend his voice to the effort. Griffey, who lost four uncles to prostate cancer, was successfully treated for the disease 11 years ago.
“One thing you know if you’re a survivor, a lot of symptoms you don’t feel,” Griffey said. “The PSA saved my life.”
Griffey, 66, worries about his sons — one of whom is baseball Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Jr. — and grandchildren.
“Men think it’s the most embarrassing thing to talk about," Griffey said. "We need to overcome that.”
In St. Louis, the Prostate Cancer Coalition has helped organize free PSA screenings in local churches and at health fairs. Lorraine Hall, a community liaison for Vitas Healthcare, said the federal recommendation was upsetting, but carried a silver lining.
“They did something about it. They stepped up their game as far as reaching the community more. So there was a positive effect too,” said Hall, who also works with a prostate cancer advocacy group in St. Louis called The Empowerment Network.
As newer, more accurate tests for prostate cancer are introduced to the market, coalition doctors hope that the medical community will reach more of a consensus over whether screenings should be recommended. That way, they may have clearer answer for their patients when they ask about getting tested.
Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.