For such a small structure, the prostate gland can cause very big problems for men, especially black men. Prostate cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed forms of cancer in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, when compared with Caucasian males, African American males are diagnosed much later and the mortality rate is 2.4 times higher.

Research has found that the differences in diagnosis and mortality are often due to African American males avoiding prostate screening exams, a lack of access to quality medical care, and other various health care disparities. Other studies have shown that Hispanics and African American men received less medical monitoring and had a longer time between their initial diagnosis to medical visits than their Caucasian counterparts. African American males were also more likely to garner a “wait and see” approach as opposed to a more proactive treatment protocol.

Yet, when health care disparities and access to care are minimized, such as in the military, the risk for prostate cancer is reduced. Research has demonstrated that African American males in the military have a lower risk for prostate cancer compared to their civilian counterparts.

When you look at the five most common barriers to prostate cancer screenings among African American males, you see an unfortunate use of the word “lack”: lack of knowledge about the need for screenings, lack of insurance, lack of finances, lack of physicians to contact, and lack of culturally sensitive information about the availability of free screenings.

As a clinician and health care educator, I have witnessed the suffering of African American patients in the hands of culturally insensitive caregivers. I have seen medical services offered to black males, but at inaccessible facilities, leading to poor attendance rates. I have seen black men reluctantly, uncomfortably discussing their conditions in unfamiliar situations with unfamiliar white facilitators.

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I recently spoke with Charles Dillard, a Cincinnati-based physician specializing in internal medicine for the past 45 years, about these issues. He too has recognized the need to heighten public awareness of prostate cancer in the African American community. “African American men are the hardest hit with prostate cancer and are reluctant for many reasons to have the exam performed,” he says. “Education in nontraditional settings must be utilized to reach these men and their families.”

Barbershops and churches are well-defined target areas for education and recruitment in the African American community. In one survey, 96% of barbershop proprietors allowed health care educators to teach and disseminate literature related to prostate cancer in their shops (Hart and Brown, 2004).

After my conversation with Dr. Dillard, I was inspired to go into local barbershops, churches, and concert halls to create and disseminate culturally sensitive literature. I asked my barber for permission to speak with customers and leave literature pertinent to prostate cancer. On another front, a local musician named LoveChild, who has played extensively across the country, recently released a CD entitled “One Man Band.” Each CD actually comes with culturally sensitive literature encouraging African American men to be tested for prostate cancer.

The Reverend Walter Rice, another minister from Cincinnati, developed the M.U.A.L. Group Foundation, which stands for Man Up and Live! The program encourages African American men to be tested for prostate cancer. Rev. Rice videotapes survivors of prostate cancer and streams these interviews on the Internet and on local television networks. He is currently planning a celebrity golf outing in order to raise funds to be given to grassroots organizations that provide education and screenings to African American males in nontraditional settings.

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I have found that African American men feel comfortable and empowered in sharing their stories about prostate cancer in these nontraditional settings. And it is imperative that we, as a community of educators, think outside the box and travel outside our comfort zones to educate individuals suffering from this disease. By doing so we can step into the lives of so many hurting people, bringing healing and wholeness where there once was pain and silent suffering.

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