Putting a number on black men's increased risk of prostate cancer

Putting a number on black men's increased risk of prostate cancer

Today we know that black men have a higher risk of prostate cancer – 1 in 4 will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. But it was thanks to our research that we know that and can use that figure to help raise awareness.

In the 1990s, small studies had suggested that black men were at a higher risk for prostate cancer, but there were no reliable figures.

We awarded £70,000 to Biral Patel, now a consultant urologist, from the Bristol Royal Infirmary in 2000 to investigate this further. This work helped Mr Patel and his colleagues to secure £267,000 from the Department of Health for a large study, called PROCESS, which showed for the first time that black men in the UK were up to three times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men.

That study was published in 2008 and helped to support efforts to raise awareness of this higher risk. It allowed our campaigns to be supported by accurate figures that could really show the scale of the problem.

Delving into the stats to make a difference to men 

However, while this figure was useful to understand the greater risk for black men, it did not help each individual man to understand his personal risk. ‘Three times higher risk of prostate cancer’ is the relative risk – it doesn’t say how likely you are to actually have prostate cancer.

In 2012, our team at Prostate Cancer UK worked with Public Health England to build on this work and gather more comprehensive, recent data. By going through the records of diagnoses and deaths from prostate cancer, we found that in the UK, 1 in 8 white men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, while for black men it is 1 in 4.

This 1 in 4 statistic made the scale of the problem much clearer and more easily understood by the public. This formed the centre of a campaign by the Department of Health, ‘Be clear on cancer’, which was piloted in parts of London. This campaign was follow up by Prostate Cancer UK to create the larger ‘Stronger Knowing More’ campaign.

Funding from Prostate Cancer UK played an important role in helping us to realise the risk that black men face from this disease. We couldn’t put any numbers on it ten years ago, but today we’ve got the powerful message that 1 in 4 black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and we’re continuing to work together to help raise awareness
Professor Frank Chinegwundoh, a consultant urologist at Barts NHS Trust who worked on the PROCESS study.

In 2014, only 8 per cent of black men knew that they were at an increased risk. Following the campaigns to promote the 1 in 4 statistic, this has increased to 30 per cent.

From national campaigns to personal ones 

Errol McKellar was diagnosed with prostate cancer after picking up a Prostate Cancer UK leaflet while waiting at his local GP surgery and since then he’s helped to raise awareness among customers at his garage.

“Before I had prostate cancer, I knew nothing about it. It wasn’t a subject that I’d even approached until the day that I picked up that leaflet. Fortunately, it was picked up early and now I am determined to raise the awareness of this issue,” he says.

“To date, of all the people that I talk to about this, and I try to talk to a minimum of a hundred people a day, 45 people that have walked into this garage have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Two of them, unfortunately, have lost their lives over it. One, 42 years’ of age, the other one 36 years’ of age. Both Afro-Caribbean men. Of those 45 men, 25 of them are Afro-Caribbean men.”

Working towards a prostate cancer-free future for black men 

Prostate Cancer UK has continued to fund more research into understanding why black men are at a greater risk.

This has included testing ideas that it could be linked to genetics, a virus or production of a particular protein. However, we have yet to find a clear answer to this and work is ongoing.

Read about our latest research study into black men's risk.