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Black men and prostate cancer: OJ’s death reminds us to seek help early


Last week, the world was taken aback by news that former football great O.J. Simpson had died of prostate cancer at age 76.

In January, eye-opening news that Dexter Scott King, one of late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s children, also died of prostate cancer at age 62.

And in March, acclaimed Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., age 87, also died. While cause of death wasn’t officially given, Gossett himself revealed that he was battling prostate cancer many years ago at age 73.

The litany of famous Black men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer is noteworthy - retired Gen Colin Powell, actor Sidney Poitier, singer/activist Harry Belafonte, “Today Show” weatherman Al Roker and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are among the many.

Gen. Powell, Poitier and Belafonte eventually died due to other causes, but they all encountered the deadly disease in the later years of their lives.

Shining the light on these great figures of Black history illustrates the point that Black men are more than 1.6 times more likely to develop prostate cancer, and aggressive forms of prostate cancer, than any other racial group of males, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Black men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer too.

What causes prostate cancer? Researchers don’t know, and they don’t know why Black men are more prone to contract it than others. But what they do know is early detection key to treating it effectively, and ultimately curing it.

However, once prostate cancer reaches stage four, there is no known cure. Life is prolonged only through treatment.

What is prostate cancer, and why don’t women contract it?

The prostate is a small gland in the male reproductive system that sits below the bladder. It helps to produce hormones and semen, in addition to regulating urine flow.

The reason why early detection of prostate cancer is so important, doctors say, is because there are no symptoms for many years. Thus, having regular screenings by a health provider to detect it is important.

When prostate cancer does reach critical levels, patients may experience unintentional weight loss; a weak urine stream; pain in the back, hips and thighs; painful ejaculation or a decrease on the amount of ejaculate; blood in the semen or urine.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, all males, particularly Black males, over the age of 45, should have a PSA ( prostate-specific antigen) screening from their doctor annually, as well as regular prostate exams.

If prostate cancer runs in your family history, tell your doctor.

Treatments for prostate cancer include (depending on what stage it is detected) having the prostate surgically removed; having chemotherapy or radiation to kill the cancer cells; hormone therapy to suppress testosterone to lower the growth of prostate cancer.

Of special note is if the prostate cancer cells remain in the prostate, a patient’s survival rate is also 100 percent with treatment.

But if prostate cancer cells have spread throughout the body, particularly the bones, survival rate is generally 30 percent.

At the most, a patient can hope to survive maybe five years at that stage, which is rare.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was severely criticized for not making his prostate cancer treatments public recently when he went missing for several days, said, “I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I’m here with a clear message to other men, especially older men,” Sec. Austin continued. “Get screened. Get your regular checkups.”