In an effort to increase early detection of prostate cancer, Queens Hospital Center is hosting free screenings in conjunction with visits by former New York Knicks players.
Last Friday, dozens of local residents lined up to shake hands with Hall-of-Famer Willis Reed, who encouraged middle-aged and elderly men to get screened for the treatable—but often deadly—disease.
“With prostate cancer being very common in the black community, I think we need to become more aware of our health,” said Reed, who recently joined a city Department of Health advertising campaign on the issue. “Sometimes, people think ‘If I feel good, then I must be fine.’ But sometimes there are silent killers, and prostate cancer is one of them.”
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in the United States, after skin cancer. Of all the men who are diagnosed with cancer each year, more than one-fourth have prostate cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the causes of the disease are not well understood, and doctors cannot explain why one man gets it and another does not.
Studies have found, however, that certain lifestyle and hereditary factors may increase a person’s risk. For example, prostate cancer is found mainly in men over the age of 55. The average age of patients when they are diagnosed is 70.
Some evidence suggests that a diet high in animal fat may increase the risk of prostate cancer, while a diet high in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk. A man is also more likely to get prostate cancer if his father or brother has the disease.
The condition appears much more commonly in African-American men than in white men, and is less common in Asian and American Indian men.
According to Dr. Waleed Hassen, a cancer specialist at Queens Hospital Center, the connection between race and risk is still poorly understood, because there are cultural factors that may inhibit certain men from getting prostate screenings.
But studies show that African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed at later stages, when treatment is more invasive and less successful.
To encourage more black men to get tested, Queens Hospital is partnering with clergy members and churches in Southeast Queens, said spokeswoman Lata Singh-Vasconcellos.
“Reaching out in this way helps many people feel comfortable receiving information about prostate cancer because of the level of trust that comes with it,” she said.
The hospital is also hoping that men will take advantage of free screenings when they come to the hospital to meet sports stars.
According to Dr. Hassen, early prostate cancer has few symptoms. As the disease progresses, it can be marked by a need to urinate frequently, an inability to urinate, blood in urine. In advanced cases, there can be pain in the lower back and hips.
Depending on the patient and the stage of the disease, treatment can entail chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy or removal of the prostate.
The best way to detect prostate cancer is with regular screenings. Screenings include a rectal examination to check for hard or lumpy areas. A blood test for prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, is also an indicator of prostate problems.
Exams take just 10 minutes, and results are returned within a few days. “Ten minutes could save your life,” Hassen said.
On Friday, February 13th, from 8 to 9:30 a.m., former New York Knicks guard Dean Meminger will be at Queens Hospital Center to sign autographs while the hospital conducts free prostate screenings.
The event will take place at the Queens Cancer Center, 5th floor, 82-68 164th Street in Jamaica. To pre-register, call 718-883-3177.