Three months after losing his father to prostate cancer, Thomas Farrington was diagnosed with it.
“I had no knowledge of cancer, so I didn’t know what type of treatment to do. There was no discussion about the fact that I was at a very high risk about being a black man prone to prostate cancer,” said Farrington, 70, who lost both of his grandfathers to the disease.
The lack of information about black men with prostate cancer — who are more than twice as likely to die from the disease as white men, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation — led Farrington to found the Prostate Health Education Network in 2003.
The network advocates on behalf of African-American prostate cancer patients and survivors. On Sunday, it’s hosting its seventh annual Father’s Day rally to honor prostate cancer survivors and those who have lost loved ones. On Saturday, the Network will convene a symposium at Second Baptist Church in Miami to discuss screening and early detection, treatment options and diet and nutritional needs. Walter Richardson, former pastor of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church, will share his story as a prostate cancer survivor.
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“When it comes to African Americans, we are diagnosed at a rate 60 percent higher than other men,” said Farrington. “PHEN’s mission is to eliminate this crisis.”
About 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed annually nationwide, with about 27,540 dying from the disease each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
“One in six men can be diagnosed with prostate cancer,” said Dr. Sanoj Punnen, urologist with UHealth — University of Miami Health System. “When we talk about African American men, that number can be closer to one in four, not just in terms of increased diagnosis, but of how aggressive the cancer is.”
The concept of active surveillance, that is, monitoring the cancer through PSA tests and digital rectal exams and treating it only if it grows, has gained ground in recent years.
“We know that a lot of men do not need to be treated immediately,” said Punnen. “At least for prostate cancer, they can safely watch it until it gets to the point where it may require treatment and still get a positive outcome.”
But African American men must be monitored more closely, urologists say.
“We know that many of these men may carry higher grade tumors that aren’t as easy to find partly because they are hidden in parts of the prostate that aren’t routinely sampled when a traditional biopsy is done,” said Punnen.
Punnen conducts research with the 4Kscore, a test that measures four proteins in the blood. Doctors look at this score, combined with the prostate exam results, the patient’s age and whether the patient has had a prior biopsy to determine the risk of an aggressive prostate cancer.
“In the future, we will rely more on markers like this that tend to have more of a focus on aggressive cancer. For African-American men, one of the things we need to know is how well the 4Kscore will work with them,” said Punnen. “It is important to do focal studies with African-American men in order to understand how to treat this disease more effectively.”
The importance of early detection will be one of the main topics during Saturday’s symposium, along with understanding treatment options and managing survival.
“The program is structured for healthy men at high risk for prostate cancer, prostate cancer survivors, caregivers, and family members,” said Farrington. “We are interested in educating men and women in their lives because they serve as strong guidance.”
The Father’s Day rally will recognize prostate cancer survivors and those who have lost loved ones to the disease.
“We want to raise the level of awareness and support those who have lost loved ones,” said the Rev. Alphonso Jackson, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church. “The timing is very unique and appropriate as we honor fathers. We feel like it is important for men to see how important it is to be with their families.”
If you go
What: Prostate Health Education Network Symposium and Rally
Where: Second Baptist Church, 11111 Pinkston Dr., Miami
When: Symposium is on Saturday, rally is on Sunday. Both events are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Cost: Free and open to public
For information: Call 305-232-0499