BY: SENATOR JOHN F. KERRY AND THOMAS A. FARRINGTON
African-American fathers and sons face the world's worst prostate cancer conditions. Read that again. African-American men suffer the highest rates of prostate cancer not just in the U.S., but in the entire world.
Prostate cancer became part of both our lives when we least expected it. Our long standing friendship was enhanced out of our shared diagnosis, and we are healthy today because we were fortunate enough to receive the best treatments available. We learned that because of early detection and access to the best health care, we could count on a healthy future. Sadly, we also learned that our stories of what went right are too often the exception rather than the rule for African-American men living in our country. When it comes to prostate cancer, too many African American men are dying in a health care system that fails to respond to their needs.
Prostate cancer incidence and mortality rates among African-American men have reached epidemic proportions. Incident rates are 60% higher and mortality rates 140% higher than any other racial or ethnic group in our country. No other major cancer shows a racial disparity even approaching these levels.
The tragedy is that we can prevent this. Survival rates for prostate cancer have increased dramatically in recent years. We were both the beneficiaries of improved technology and treatment. While one in six American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, early treatment increases the five-year survival rate to 97%. But little effort is made today in outreach to African-American communities to encourage the early detection steps necessary for long-term survival.
Silence is a cold-blooded killer, and the prostate cancer crisis in African-American communities is a silent plague on our nation. One of us is an African-American business leader in Boston. The other is a U.S. Senator. Like most Americans, we knew nothing of the fact that our nation tolerates the injustice of African-Americans suffering epidemic rates of prostate cancer. We were horrified to learn that tens of thousands of African-American families could be saved the devastation of losing a loved one if they simply knew and practiced early detection guidelines. We were motivated to act when we learned that our nation is doing way too little to right this wrong. There is no question that it is long overdue that we foster national awareness among African-American men about the risk they face, and how to manage this risk.
In Boston, the Prostate Health Education Network, Inc. (PHEN) was started in 2003 with programs that can provide a model for the nation. PHEN provides prostate health education and support to African American families. By focusing on community outreach to raise awareness, and making counseling available to the newly diagnosed, PHEN is saving lives and the quality of lives. Today, the self-named "PHEN Survivor Network" of mobilized black prostate cancer survivors has devoted itself to community education, survivorship issues and free screening initiatives, and they're seeing first-hand the impact of their efforts. In Boston, we have learned that it doesn't take a lot of money to address this problem ? it requires acknowledging the problem and making people aware of it. Informing the public is not as glamorous as a new cure ? but it's a matter of life and death for many of our friends and neighbors.
There is no excuse for ignoring the plague of prostate cancer in African-American communities. We have the medical technology. We know we can save lives, and we can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines.
If we fail to seize this opportunity to provide proper care and action, the problem will only spiral further out of control. It's time for Americans to come together and demand that elected officials and community leaders tackle this problem. That means providing education, making early screening more accessible, counseling the newly diagnosed, rallying community support, and elevating public awareness about prostate health care.
If we make this commitment, with hard work, dedication and perseverance we will win this fight. We will assure that the next generation of African-Americans will not be unnecessarily ravaged by prostate cancer, and like us, survive and continue to live productive lives and enjoy the love of our families.