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16 Jan 2017

Famous faces front taboo-busting billboard campaign urging black men to know their risk

Boxer David Haye, Chuka Umunna MP and Olympic medallist Linford Christie are among the black celebrities leading the charge in a major new awareness drive by Prostate Cancer UK to alert black men about their increased risk of the most common cancer in men.

Black stars from the worlds of sport, politics and the arts have joined forces with prostate cancer survivors in a show of strength against the most common cancer in men.

Former WBA World Heavyweight champion David Haye, Olympic gold medallist Linford Christie and Labour MP Chuka Umunna are among the celebrities who are fronting Prostate Cancer UK's new Stronger Knowing More campaign, calling on black communities to confront their increased risk of prostate cancer and break down longstanding taboos that prevent men from speaking out about the disease.

One-in-four black men in the UK will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime and one-in-twelve will die from the disease – double the risk faced by white men. Black men are also more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer at a younger age than men of other ethnicities, but an alarming 86% are oblivious to the increased danger they face, and the disease is still widely regarded as a taboo subject within many families.

I hope the images make people stop and look, and encourage men to think about their own prostate cancer risk
Dennis Morris Photographer

That's why leading black figures – including writer and musician Benjamin Zephaniah, ex-England footballer Viv Anderson and Red Dwarf star Danny John-Jules – will be appearing on billboards in London and Birmingham, urging black men to find out more about prostate cancer on our dedicated website and talk to their doctor. They've all been captured in an exclusive set of images by the highly-acclaimed photographer, Dennis Morris, who is renowned for his portraits of Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols.

"Up until recently, I was among the many thousands of black men who are unaware of the threat that prostate cancer poses to our health, which is why I wanted to get involved in this campaign," Dennis says.

"We chose to shoot the celebrities in locations where they feel strong. So for Danny we shot on the stage of the Royal Opera House – a place he particularly likes to be. Benjamin chose his Tai Chi room at his home which he trains in. And David chose his gym, which is where he feels he has maximum power.

"I hope the images make people stop and look. And ultimately, I hope they encourage men to think about their own prostate cancer risk and take steps to address it."

We're calling on black communities everywhere to bring up the conversation of their health and prostate cancer with their dads, brothers, uncles and friends
Tony Wong Prostate Cancer UK

It's not clear why black men face a higher-than-average risk of prostate cancer, but it is widely thought that genetics could be an underlying factor. The PSA blood test is the first step towards diagnosis and black men are encouraged to start speaking to their GP about the test from the age of 45 – five years earlier than other men.

"As a black man myself, I am all too aware of the long-standing taboos that surround prostate cancer within our communities," says Tony Wong, who manages the Stronger Knowing More campaign at Prostate Cancer UK. "Too many black men are still unaware of their increased risk, but what’s more concerning is that those who are aware often fail to speak out about the issue.

"This has got to stop. If caught early enough, prostate cancer can often be successfully treated and many men can return to a good quality of life. Awareness is the first step to diagnosis, which is why we’re so pleased some of the most influential black men in Britain today are shining a light on this important issue.

"We're now calling on black communities everywhere to bring up the conversation of their health and prostate cancer with their dads, brothers, uncles and friends. It’s only by talking about the disease and acting on our risk that we’re really going to be able to beat it for good."

To find out more about the risk of prostate cancer in black men, visit strongerknowingmore.org

Benjamin Zephaniah: "It's always been hush-hush"

"In my community, prostate cancer has always been a bit hush-hush because of how it affects our private areas – no one really talks about it. Instead of 'prostate cancer' it's often referred to as 'water problems'.

"But over the last few years, I’ve started to lose friends to the disease and I’ve found out about other friends who were affected by it. The stats are shocking – avoiding prostate cancer and not talking about it will not make it go away.

"It’s time that we all confront our risk and arm ourselves with the knowledge that could actually save our lives. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years it’s that ignorance is not bliss."

David Haye: "Don't let pride get in the way"

"The fight against prostate cancer is one that we can all win if we stand up to the facts and take action before it’s too late. The problem is that not enough of us are talking about the disease.

"As a black man, not only am I more likely to get prostate cancer, I’m more likely to get it younger. This disease can be treated if it’s caught early, so don’t let pride get in the way. If you’re black and over 45, talk to your doctor about prostate cancer, don’t wait for any warning signs. Don’t let prostate cancer knock you out."

Linford Christie: "The odds are really against us"

"Up until very recently, I knew nothing at all about prostate cancer, and I certainly didn’t know that black men are more likely to get the disease – the odds are really against us.

"Prostate cancer is still a taboo subject in our community – we simply don’t discuss it – people are too embarrassed. But it’s time we all face the facts. Talk about it with your dads, brothers, husbands and friends. Be self aware, know your risk and know what to do about it. Together we can stop men dying from this disease."

Chuka Umunna: "We need to start talking about it"

"As a black man, I not only have a much higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer than a white man the same age, I am also in greater danger of dying from it.

"My constituency represents one of the biggest African and Caribbean communities in the country and I want to make sure every black man is wise to his risk and does something about it.

"If we’re going to beat prostate cancer, we need to start talking about it. Nothing is more precious than life and so for the sake of your loved ones speak to your doctor about your risk of prostate cancer."

Danny John-Jules: "It’s a macho thing"


"There’s still a big taboo in our community when it comes to prostate cancer; people keep quiet about it and people don’t like to go to the doctor – it’s a macho thing. But when you hear that black men face double the risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, that macho attitude seems ridiculous.

"We all need to protect ourselves from this disease, which is why it’s so important to know the facts and understand your risk."

Viv Anderson: "My health is incredibly important to me"

"I’ve been a supporter of Prostate Cancer UK for many years and as a black man, over the age of 60, I’m extremely aware of my increased risk of the disease.

"Despite my friends being of a similar age, 'health' is not a subject that tends to come up in conversation. I think we feel too embarrassed to talk about ourselves and so we avoid the subject all together.

"But prostate cancer is something that all men need to be aware of – especially black men. I want to spend as much time as I can with my children and so my health is incredibly important to me. Being aware of your risk of prostate cancer and confronting it could save your life."

All images © Dennis Morris assisted by Bolade Banjo