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Free Screenings Help Duke Researchers Study African Americans’ Reluctance to be Tested for Prostate Cancer

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- At 94, Theodore Speights can credit many things for his health and longevity, but prostate cancer screening is at the top of his list.

"A few years ago I went to the doctor for my physical exam and they found symptoms of cancer," Speights said. "They decided I didn't need surgery, but told me I should go to the screenings at Lincoln Community Health Center."

Over the past several years, Speights' prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels have remained elevated but steady, so the Durham native and his health-care providers have kept a watchful eye on his condition. Elevated PSA levels may indicate cancer. Speights will return to Lincoln Community Health Center this weekend, when free screenings are offered both there and at Duke University Medical Center.

African-American males like Speights are more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as are white men. The reasons for this are unknown, but the best defense for any man is early detection.

Unfortunately, African-American men are less inclined to get screened for the disease. Duke researchers are studying what makes a man likely to attend free screenings. One of the study's larger goals is to bring about an increase in screening among African-American men, particularly lower-income men. The study, in its second year, is funded by the Department of Defense.

Marva Mizell Price, assistant professor and director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at Duke University School of Nursing, is the lead investigator of the study. Along with co-investigator Cary Robertson, MD, a Duke urologist, Price is identifying men who are likely to return each year for screenings and comparing them to men who don't return. They hope to uncover factors governing a man's decision to take part in screenings, both initially and then continually.

"One of our goals was to increase participation from that target group and that has already happened," Price said. "Hopefully it will happen again this year."

Many men don't discover they have prostate cancer until it is too late. Each year, about 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and about 30,000 men die from it. For African-American men, the incidence is about 60 percent higher than in white men. And African-American men tend to be diagnosed at later stages, making the disease harder to treat.

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 age 65.

Speights has some advice for men considering attending the screenings this weekend. "If you're over 40, go," he said. "Take advantage of it."

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

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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