The Role of Race in Prostate Cancer

Being African American increases the risk of prostate cancer

African American Men are Twice as Likely to Die of Prostate Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute there were roughly 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in America last year. There were also an estimated 29,480 deaths from prostate cancer in 2014.  Prostate cancer has been found to occur more often in men of African descent, whether African-American or Afro-Caribbean. African American men are actually more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as Caucasian men. The reasons for the racial and ethnic disparities when it comes to prostate cancer are still unclear, but we do know that this silent-killer occurs less often in Asian American and Hispanic men.

The reasons are still inconclusive but research suggests such a high risk may be due to the following factors:

  • Reduced access to healthcare and a higher quality of care, which can lead to a diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer at later stages
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Exposures and co-existing medical conditions can influence the severity of the cancer
  • Specific genetic differences in the prostate tissue

Aside from race, other risk factors for prostate cancer include:

  • Genetics – Men with a father or brother with prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease; having 3 or more relatives with prostate cancer makes a diagnosis almost certain
  • Age – More than 65 percent of prostate cancers occur in men over 65
  • Weight – Obese men, those with a BMI over 30, are 33 percent more likely to die after a prostate cancer diagnosis

The most critical risk factor is having a father or brother with prostate cancer. This more than doubles a man’s risk of developing the disease. African American men need to be especially aware of their family history and undergo routine PSA screenings.

The risk for the disease is also higher for men who have a brother with the disease than for those with a father who had it. The risk is significantly higher for men with multiple family members who have had prostate cancer, especially if those family members were younger at the time of diagnosis.

Obesity could be to blame.

A new study from the University Of Washington School Of Nursing and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle suggests that obesity, a known risk factor for prostate cancer, poses an even greater risk for African American men.

With the race risk factor this means that African American men have a 60% increased risk of prostate cancer over Caucasian men. Not only do African American men have the highest rate of new prostate cancer cases in the U.S., but they also have the highest proportion of aggressive prostate cancers. Researchers suggest that targeting obesity could help reduce the number of African American men affected by this cancer. The study used data from a previous trial that followed the health of about 3,500 African American and almost 23,000 non-Hispanic Caucasian men over ten years from 2001 to 2011. All the men analyzed were at least 55 years or older.

About 6 years into the study, they found 270 prostate cancer cases among the African American men and 1,453 among Caucasian men.  Just as previous statistics show, that’s about a 60% increased risk of prostate cancer. When reviewing the body mass index, or BMI, of participants – African American men with a BMI that categorized them as obese had a 103% higher risk of prostate cancer. Obesity was tied to additional prostate cancer risk among African Americans, but not among Caucasian men. African American men who had normal weight and BMI only had a 28% higher risk of getting prostate cancer compared to Caucasian men. This is a significant difference. Researchers can’t yet explain why African American men’s risk may be influenced more by obesity than it is for Caucasian men, so obviously more research is needed. But if losing weight can reduce your risk of prostate cancer by 70%, then it’s definitely worth it!

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