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Free Prostate Screenings May Detect Cancer, Save Lives

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- Edward Boyd's doctors saw danger lurking in his past and his future. Prostate cancer had befallen his father, and Boyd is African American. Both are significant risk factors that made Boyd a likely candidate to develop the disease.

"I was aware that I was at higher risk, but not concerned," said Boyd, who was feeling just fine at the time.

Nonetheless, Boyd agreed to a prostate-screening test, a simple exam that may have saved his life. Blood tests revealed elevated levels of prostate-specific antigens that signal the presence of cancer. Luckily, doctors caught his case early, before it had spread. They removed his prostate gland and Boyd has felt fine ever since.

Boyd's perspective has changed considerably since that day of reckoning in the late 1980s. "I think you have to tell people that screening is a life-or-death situation," he now says to those who ask.

Indeed, Boyd's outcome could have been far worse, say doctors at Lincoln Community Health Center, where a free prostate screening will be held this Saturday as part of National Prostate Cancer Awareness Week.

More than 30,000 men die each year of the disease, out of the 200,000 men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually. African-American men are far more likely to develop the disease than white men, and they are more than twice as likely to die from it.

"Early prostate cancer may not have any symptoms, which is why screenings are so important," said Mary Baldwin, director of Nursing at Lincoln Community Health Center. Screening examinations take only 10 or 15 minutes; if caught early, prostate cancer can be treated effectively and with few residual problems.

Boyd, now 76, has experienced no side effects related to the surgery. "I give my doctor and the good Lord all the credit," said Boyd, a member of Lincoln's prostate cancer education and support group that meets monthly.

Yearly screenings are recommended for men over 40 who are in high-risk groups, and men over 50 who are not at risk. The majority of prostate cancer cases occur in men over 50, with 70 percent of cases occurring in men over the age of 65.

This weekend's screenings are open to men over the age of 40 and will include a digital rectal exam to detect any abnormalities of the prostate and a blood test to screen for elevated levels of a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, that may indicate cancer. Educational materials about prostate cancer and prostate health will also be distributed.

The screenings are sponsored by the Duke University Health System, the American Cancer Society and Cornucopia House. Prostate Cancer Awareness Week runs from Sept. 15-22.

For more information about the Lincoln Community Health Center screenings, call (919) 956-4025. To find out more about the Duke screening, call (919) 419-5506.

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