Experience: Prostate Cancer and the Black Community

23 November, Tim Burton with Alfred Samuels

Alfred Samuels was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012 and was given 6 months to live. It’s now 2018 and, thanks to numerous new treatments, Alfred is still fighting fit and has become a prostate cancer advocate, raising awareness wherever he can.

Here he shares his experience of prostate cancer in the black community, a community that is twice as likely to be affected by the disease.

Tim (from The Urology Foundation): How do black men react when you talk to them about prostate cancer?

Alfred: With an uncomfortable laugh and comments like ‘oh, I’m not going to talk about that’ or ‘I don’t want to know, I’m happy to remain blissfully ignorant’.

I think this is because a lot of black men don’t realise that 1 in 4 black men will have prostate cancer. I think that level of understanding is why I so often get negative reactions.I think there is a general ignorance around the prostate amongst the population as a whole, with many not knowing where the prostate is in the body, or what it does.

But I think this reaction isn’t just down to ignorance. There’s a real problem with taboos, as well.

Tim: Why is prostate cancer so taboo in the black community?

Alfred: There’s a lot of reasons for that. For one, a lot of black men just don’t want to think about anything related to their health.

Prostate cancer is particularly bad, though, and I think it’s because of what it can mean for a sex life. Sometimes prostate cancer treatment can lead to complications like erectile dysfunction and incontinence. Once you start to get into that territory, it’s very easy for something to become taboo. I even had one guy say to me that he’d rather not know that he had prostate cancer because he was afraid about what it would mean for his sex life.

What these men don’t realise is that the sooner you get prostate cancer treated and dealt with, the less chance you have of complications like erectile dysfunction and incontinence.

Tim: How do we spread the messageand change perceptions of prostate cancer in the black community?

Alfred: That’s the 64 million dollar question! There’s no one silver bullet, but here’s a few ideas to get us going.

A lot of health leaflets and information are in places of medical practice, like GP surgeries and hospitals, which is a great thing, but as we’ve already considered, a lot of black men often put off dealing with their health. So are they likely to go and see their GP? If we create literature to inform men about prostate cancer, we need to put it where they’re likely to find it: barbershops, public transport, churches, mosques, concert venues, sports centres.

We also need to do our best to involve people who know the community’s language and culture. For example, diabetes is more common in the South Asian community. When someone goes to an event in a South Asian community, they’ll speak Gujarati or Hindi, for example,and they’ll offer practical and relevant advice like possible healthy substitutes to their diet that are still reflective of their culture.

When we talk to the black community, it needs to be from within the community.

There’s a lot more to be said on this matter, but here’s a thought to leave you with. Families need to play a big part. If a member of your family has had prostate or breast cancer, you are much more likely to get prostate cancer yourself. However, too often in Afro-Caribbean families, health topics will be avoided and whilst you will probably know that a family member died, you probably don’t know what they died of. It’s important that black families work on their communication. I’ve made very sure that my sons know about my experience. Now there’s no chance they won’t be getting checked for prostate cancer.

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If you want to know more about prostate cancer, take a look here.

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