An ongoing research is trying to find the reasons for the high rate of prostate cancer among black men.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer and sixth leading cause of cancer deaths among men globally.
According to the American Cancer Society, the rates are much higher in African-American men compared to other racial groups – white, American Indian, Asian or Pacific Islander, and Hispanic – with 158.3 new diagnoses per 100,000 men.
Reports also show that African men suffer disproportionately from the disease compared to men from other parts of the world. But it is still quite difficult to accurately describe the burden in Africa due to poor cancer registration systems.
In fact, men of African descent are twice as likely to die from the disease as white men.
This disparity is nothing new to medical literature. However, it is not understood why such a gulf exists.
During a public symposium in Abuja on Tuesday, a team of researchers and scientists said they were undertaking the ‘largest study to date’ to explore the genetic causes of prostate cancer in men of African descent.
The group said it is collecting samples of 3800 men with prostate cancer as well as those of 3800 men without the disease. The samples will be collected in strategic centres located in six hospitals in four African countries – Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Senegal.
The study, known as MADCaP (Men of African Descent and Carcinoma of the Prostate), is funded by the American National Cancer Institute (NCI). It is a collaborative project between researchers from America and the four African countries.
The leader of the project, Timothy Rebbeck, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said the five-year study commenced in 2015. Its aim is to discover the root of the disease in black men through the collection and genomic analysis of biosamples for the study.
“We anticipate in Africa that the rate of prostate cancer deaths will double in the next 20 years, so, it’s a bad problem now and it’s going to be even worse problem in the coming decades,” Mr Rebbeck, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the US.
“What we trying to do is to find out what causes prostate cancer (in black men) and use that information to develop prevention methods and treatments. We don’t really understand why Africa has such rate of prostate yet.”
The scientist said the research will “compare genetics and exposures to environmental factors in different men who have prostate and men who don’t.
“It is a case-control study and if we finish this study, we can identify differences between men with cancer and men without cancer. We can identify what are the differences between these two groups of men and we can show what causes prostate cancer and how to address it.”
Linking causes of prostate cancer to genetic transfer
According to the researcher, the root cause of prostate cancer is heavily linked to genetic transfer.
“We don’t know the external factors that can cause cancer among men in Africa because it has not been done yet but in the rest of the world, genetics seems to be the most important contributor.
“Other factors such as exposure to environment, diet, smoking and alcohol consumption have more to do with development of other forms of cancer. But we don’t know if there are lifestyle factors that can impact on prostate in Africa. That is why we are doing the research and survey.
“From ongoing observation and research, genetic factors are the most prevalent causes of cancer among men in Africa. The research is not complete that is why we expect genetic factors to be really important because that is the case everywhere else in the world,” Mr Rebbeck noted.
“Family history is among two risk factors for prostate development. If you have a father or relative who has prostate, you might be at risk. You should be aware that you are at risk and think about things that can help you. The other thing is age, it is a disease of aging. Older men are at higher risk.”
Break down of the Study
Speaking earlier, Oseremen Aisuodione-Shadrach, the principal investigator of the Abuja site for MADCAP Network study in Nigeria, shed light on the project.
He said the network was formed in a centre in Harvard, Boston with the purpose of finding people interested in doing research from African centres.
“The research is barely three years and we are still collating data and blood samples from 3800 people who have cancer and 3800 people who don’t. In science, these are the things that increase the power of a study. With that, you can go to the scientific community and present your findings and that is when people will believe you,” said Mr. Aisuodione-Shadrach, a professor of Urology at the University of Abuja.
“At this point, we are almost approaching 2800 and 2900 from each side and we still have two years to go. The data is being collected in hospitals in those six centres. It’s in hospitals you find patients. We approach them and ask whether they are interested and we take their consent.
“We are hoping that with the emerging data from the analysis, we will be able to link what is in the gene of black people of African descent responsible for this high proportion of cancer compared to other races.”
Prevention, signs, and symptoms
The best way to screen for cancer in men is to do a simple test called PSA once a year, according to Mr. Aisuodione-Shadrach.
“Another way is to have a doctor do a digital rectum examination by using the finger to examine the prostate once a year in any black man who is more than 40 years. Once you do that you are being monitored so that If there are abnormalities in the prostate or you pick an abnormality in the result it can be treated early but once it is late, prostate cancer usually has no treatment.
“The symptoms will make a man not urinate well or see blood in the urine. When it has spread, the disease can affect his bones, he may have cough and chest pain.
“Data show that men who have first generation relations who have prostate are highly at risk and that is why the network is already tilting towards genetic transfer.”
Prostate cancer is to men what breast cancer or cervical cancer is to women. It has the potential to grow and spread quickly, but for most men, it is a relatively slow growing disease.
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It is located beneath the urinary bladder and in front of the rectum.
The prostate makes some of the fluid that nourishes and protects sperm cells in the semen. Just behind the prostate are the seminal vesicles, which make most of the fluid for the semen.
Men with prostate cancer do not always experience symptoms. However, if the cancer is caught at its earliest stages, it is 100 percent treatable.