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Forum's goal: Help African-American men avoid cancer

A men's health forum focuses on prostate cancer and offers free screenings for the deadly disease, which is treatable if caught early.

By WES ALLISON

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2000


Dr. Kenneth R. Bryant, a St. Petersburg urologist, laments that he sees this about every week: A man comes into his office complaining of trouble urinating. Bryant runs a series of tests and finds the prostate to blame.

"The biopsy shows prostate cancer, and it's spread to the bone or lymph nodes," Bryant said.

"That's very common, too common, particularly in African-American men. And it's easy to prevent that if we encourage these men to come in for routine prostate exams once a year."

Experts say black men are nearly twice as likely to get prostate cancer as white men, and their reluctance to go to the doctor helps make them twice as likely to die.

On Saturday, the Florida Cancer Education Network will hold its first health forum targeting African-American men, with free screenings for prostate cancer. The event is 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Hillsborough Community College. It also will feature free screening for high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes.

About 600 men have registered so far, and anyone is welcome to show up. Bob Samuels, founder and chairman of the network, said his group organized the forum because there was no concentrated effort to target that high-risk population.

Prostate cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, provided it's caught early, but often it goes undetected until it's almost too late. Samuels, a retired banking executive, uses himself as an example: He was diagnosed with prostate cancer six years ago and, although it's now in remission, it had advanced dangerously far.

"As an African-American male, 56 years of age, nobody told me I was in a higher risk category and that I should be checking for this disease," he said. "I found out the hard way."

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer will strike 181,000 Americans this year, including 13,700 in Florida. That's more than any other non-skin cancer in Florida for men or women, eclipsing lung, breast and colon/rectum cancers. About 2,400 in the state will die from it.

Twenty Tampa Bay doctors have volunteered to work at Saturday's forum, including Bryant, who will provide an overview of prostate cancer. The keynote address at noon will be given by Les Brown, a prostate cancer survivor and motivational speaker who waived his normal $30,000 fee. Sponsors include St. Joseph's Hospital, University Community Hospital and H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute. Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures tests for prostate cancer, contributed $25,000.

Repeated studies have shown that men are much more reluctant than women to see a doctor unless, as Samuels puts it, "something hurts or doesn't work." And many African-American men don't have jobs that offer or require regular physicals that include prostate exams, he said.

Unfortunately, prostate cancer has few early symptoms. By the time the disease causes impotence, incontinence or difficulty urinating, "It's too late to really initiate a cure," Bryant said. "About half of African-American men have advanced prostate cancer by the time they come in."

If you go

For more information, call the Florida Cancer Education Network at (813) 806-2800or visit its Web site at www.florida-cancer.org.

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