prostate cancer affects black men most: connecting the dots between racial capitalism & black health
December 21, 2017
By Da’Shaun Harrison / WearYourVoice Mag, AFROPUNK contributor
I received the news the morning before Thanksgiving. It was around 1:30am that Wednesday when my mom walked downstairs, quiet and teary-eyed. I was lying on the couch watching Netflix, as I often do before I sleep. I looked over at her and waited, waited for her to share the news with me which led her to weep. She stared for a moment and then, immobile, she stood by a chair near me and stated, “Uncle Donald just passed.”
My heart sank. I had just visited my Uncle Donald in the hospital earlier in the year. In August, to be exact. He had been diagnosed with Stage IV Prostate Cancer a little while before that, so I visited him knowing that it could be the last time I ever saw him. However, just a few days after visiting him, he was discharged from the hospital. I knew that this did not mean that his fight with cancer was over, but I was still not prepared to hear that he had died.
I lost my maternal grandfather in March of 2010 to prostate cancer as well, I remember that day vividly, I begged my mom to allow me to skip school that morning because I did not want to miss a moment with my granddad. The family sat and laughed, cried, and conversed waiting on ‘that’ moment. And that afternoon, it came. Lying in his bed in Hospice Care, he took his last breath while I stood beside his bed—his hand in mine. My mom was there with me then, too. She had leaned over his bed and, just as she did this time when she delivered the news of Uncle Donald’s passing, she wept. I was only 13, maybe 14-years-old, then.
Just days after receiving the news about my uncle’s death, my father informed me that my paternal grandfather had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer as well.
My family is not unfamiliar with prostate cancer. However, what I did not know during my maternal grandfather’s battle is that many Black American families are not unfamiliar with prostate cancer. According to Prostate Cancer News Today, Black American men are known to have a 60 percent higher risk of developing prostate cancer in comparison to white men, and their chances of dying of the disease are twice as high.
According to researchers at the University of Michigan’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Erasmus University in the Netherlands, by Black men’s 85th birthday, 30-43 percent of them will have developed what is referred to as ‘preclinical prostate cancer.’ This means that the disease is already developing, but patients show no symptoms—a risk that is 28-56 percent higher in Black men than in men of all other races.
Scientists and researchers have named several reasons for why Black men are seemingly targeted by prostate cancer. These reasons being genetics, environment, healthcare, and mistrust.
Data supports that racial differences within the androgen—a “male” hormone— and androgen receptor pathway is likely the cause for the differences in biology of prostate cancer in Black men in comparison to other races.
As stated by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, folks with prostates who are of African descent—specifically, Black Americans—are most affected by prostate cancer. This is, in part, due to the fact that 38 percent of Black males under the age of 18 live in poverty, 20 percent of Black men between the ages of 18 and 64 live in poverty, and 14 percent of Black men 65 and older live in poverty. Exposure to negligent or otherwise unhealthy dietary habits, chemicals, or other factors are all things associated with poverty. Which, when combined with the genetic differences in the bodies of Black folk with prostates, the risk of developing prostate cancer among Black Americans is increased.
Along with the overwhelming evidence linking genetics and environmental conditions to prostate cancer within the Black American community, researchers have also found that medical care, or lack thereof, plays a huge role in Black Americans’ prostate cancer diagnoses. Studies show that Black American folk are less likely to have (access to) health insurance, thus forcing many to have delayed diagnoses or no diagnosis at all. Research done through Center on Budget and Policy Priorities plainly notes:
“Expanding health coverage among African Americans is critical to addressing disparities in health outcomes for this population. A greater share of African Americans report fair or poor health status than their white counterparts. Nonelderly African Americans have death rates that are more than 40 percent higher than their white counterparts…”
To reiterate the point, Black American people are often unaware of illnesses they may be experiencing due to their inability to pay for a primary physician or emergency room visits. Because of this, many Black American people with prostates are incognizant of their prostate cancer diagnosis—oftentimes, until it is too late—because they are uninsured and poor, thus, leaving them incapable of receiving regular screenings.
One of the final reasons that Black American people with prostates are more likely to develop and die from prostate cancer is overall distrust for the American health system and physicians, at-large. Research has proventhat Black people, altogether, are less likely to report trust in their physician and that Black men, specifically, are less likely to visit the same doctor more than once or be screened for prostate cancer.
Historically, medicine and scientists have exploited Black people’s bodies and discarded them when they were no longer useful. Enslaved Black folk in America were often purchased by scientists and other medical professionals to be tested on; James Marion Sims—revered as the ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’—conducted research on enslaved Black women, without anesthesia, because he believed they “did not feel pain;” from 1932 to 1972 in Alabama, hundreds of poor Black men were researched on in a project widely known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. A study that used people with syphilis who were unaware of it. They were told they had “bad blood” and given placebos, even after the disease became treatable with penicillin in the 1940s.
Because of this abusive history between medicine, science, and Black people, it is abundantly clear why Black people do not trust medicine and science. However, trust is not just a necessary part of a healthy doctor-patient relationship, it is also what determines whether or not patients commit to regular check-ups and follow-up treatments. So, in order for Black folk to rebuild trust in both institutions, the medical community must address the suspicion and distrust it caused, as noted by Dr. J Corey Williams. Choosing to do otherwise is a continued disregard for and commitment to the murders of Black life.
This is to serve as both an indictment on capitalism and a plea to Black folk with prostates. While capitalism, conjoined with anti-blackness, has served as one of the biggest reasons for the inundating deaths caused by prostate cancer within the Black community, it is also my hope to push Black folk with prostates to be more cognizant of their health. I have now lost two loved ones to this overbearing sickness and, statistically, will lose more loved ones in the future. While it is true that ‘natural’ deaths do not exist under capitalism, it is important that those who have access to medical care take advantage of it to be sure that their health is in good standing. Or, at the very least, to catch prostate cancer in its early stages.
This post is in partnership with WearYourVoice Mag.
*Da’Shaun L. Harrison serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Queer Black Millennial. He is a 21-year-old sociology student at Morehouse College. Harrison is Black and Queer abolitionist, organizer, and socialist.
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