Community health screenings address underlying disparities

January 23, 2019 | by Malcolm Bedell

Leanne Burnham, Ph.D. | City of Hope Leanne Burnham, Ph.D., talks with Pasadena Vice Mayor John J. Kennedy at a recent health fair.
Prostate cancer is a disease that affects nearly 175,000 men annually, or about 1 in 9 men in their lifetimes. It’s also one of the most curable types of cancer, provided it is detected and treated early, which makes regular screenings critically important.
 
According to the American Cancer Society, men at average risk for prostate cancer should begin being screened at 50 years old, with higher-risk categories of patients (including African-American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer) advised to start getting tested for prostate cancer at age 45 or earlier. And yet for a variety of reasons, many men don't stick to the screening guidelines. 

That's why City of Hope clinicians and researchers regualrly travel out into the local community to hold screenings for those who might otherwise be missed. (On Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, City of Hope will be a co-sponsor of the fourth annual KKLA Free Family Health Fair, located at the Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California.)
 
We spoke with Leanne Woods Burnham, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at City of Hope, to learn more about the importance of early detection and screening in prostate cancer. 

With prostate cancer, early detection is key

“Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that, with early detection, is 99 to 100 percent curable,” Burnham explained. “The issue is that in certain demographics, particularly African-American men, the disease isn’t caught in its early stages. When prostate cancer is detected after the early stages, it is no longer curable.”
 
One of the challenges facing doctors and patients are the evolving screening recommendations for prostate cancer. Recommendations for screenings are often built on sample study data that underrepresents some groups, including African-American men. According to Burnham, “Less than 5 percent of the men involved in these studies have any African ancestry. Prostate cancer affects black men at a much younger age, and when it is diagnosed, it tends to be much more aggressive.”
 
The result is that some overall screening recommendations may not take into consideration the specific needs of some higher-risk demographics, including African-Americans, who may not be getting prostate screenings early enough.
 
Burnham explained that for most men of average risk for prostate cancer, discussions about the pros and cons of screenings should begin at age 50. But for African-American men, that conversation should happen much sooner. “Physicians should begin to have discussions regarding screening with black men at age 40 to 45, depending on family history. But many physicians aren’t having the discussion with these patients this early.”
 
Thanks to participation in local health fairs, City of Hope's Divisoin of Health Equities, led by Rick Kittles, Ph.D., has the opportunity to provide free prostate cancer screenings — in the form of prostate-specific antigen blood tests — to help bridge the testing gap for low-income and minority families that may not otherwise have access to these services, or understand their importance in ensuring a successful cancer-treatment outcome. Those undergoing PSA screenings will also be asked if they would like to fill out a questionnaire to collect anonymous data for research and to help determine community needs.
 
On Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, City of Hope will be a co-sponsor of the fourth annual KKLA (99.5 FM) Free Family Health Fair, located at the Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena.
 
Hosted by KKLA’s David James from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., this free event for all ages features informative workshops and lectures by City of Hope physicians on topics including breast cancer, lung health and prostate cancer, as well as free screenings for blood pressure, glucose/blood sugar, pulmonary function, body mass index and prostate cancer.

Preregistration is required.
 
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