When it comes to African-American men and prostate cancer, the news is not good. According to the National Cancer Institute, Black men have the highest incidence rate for prostate cancer in the United States and are more than twice as likely as white men to die of the disease. While genetics and DNA may play a factor, health experts also believe that lack of access to quality health care lead to Black men not being routinely tested for prostate cancer.
BET.com sat down with Thomas Farrington, the founder of the Prostate Help Education network (PHEN) and a prostate cancer survivor since 2000, to talk about his own diagnosis and treatment; the importance of early screening for Black men, despite the current screening controversy; and the fact that you can defeat prostate cancer.
BET.com: Did you think that you were ever at-risk for prostate cancer?
Thomas Farrington: I lost my father and my grandfather to prostate cancer. My father died in 1999 from it and I was diagnosed with it a year later. But even knowing that, I still was not aware of my risk for prostate cancer. No one really talked to me about it, even with this family history of prostate cancer.
How did you know to even be tested for it?
When I turned 50, my doctor routinely gave me a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test. But I hadn’t been to the doctor for a couple of years, and so my wife forced me to get another check-up. They gave me the PSA test and that’s when I was diagnosed.
It was in the relatively early stage, which means it was moderately aggressive. Looking at my charts, my doctor told me that there was probably a 50 percent chance that the cancer had moved beyond the prostate. I talked with my doctor about what to do: wait it out and see or start treatment. I sought treatment.
How are you doing now?
I am doing very well. I did have a reoccurrence three years ago, and that tells me that my early decision was the right thing, because cancer was already outside of the gland, so I was able to treat it again.
When you were first diagnosed, were you afraid?
Definitely. Prostate cancer for my family has been a death sentence. But there is fear and then there is knowledge. Fear is about not knowing about what will happen, and when I was initially diagnosed I didn’t know what was going to happen. So when I learned more and sought treatment, I had the knowledge to understand the routine and I also understood that even if my cancer went in remission, it could come back. And so I still get annual PSA tests.
What are your words of wisdom?
Prostate cancer is a killer: I’ve seen that in my family and I have worked with people across the country. But I also know that you can defeat prostate cancer, but it begins with early detection. There are two ways to detect for prostate cancer: PSA test and a digital rectum exam. When you balance life with two simple tests, the options are very clear, you have to test, and then once you are tested, you can make a decision of what treatment you want to take or “watch and wait.”
Remember that knowledge is the key is beating prostate cancer and you have to understand your prostate health. PHEN also recommend to get tested to age 40. And for those young men, keep in mind that the prostate is important to sexual health.
And for those young men, keep in mind that prostate sex is important for sexual health. I know that there is a lot of fear that prostate cancer and its treatment will result to not being able to have an erection. But know that early detection is the key to maintain your sexually abilities. But if you wait too long to get tested [and the disease has progressed] all bets are off.
On Sept. 21-22, PHEN hosted its 8th annual African-American Prostate Cancer Priority Disparity Summit, read more about it here.
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(Photo: Courtesy of PHEN)