William Oh, MD, chief medical officer at Sema4 and a clinical professor of medicine at Mount Sinai, discusses Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and possible reasons for disparities in diagnoses and mortality in prostate cancer.
What are the goals of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month?
Oh: Obviously, prostate cancer is a very common disease. It's the most common cancer in men in the United States, after skin cancer, and it is also the second most common cause of cancer death. So, there's a lot known about the fact that early diagnosis of prostate cancer leads to significantly better outcomes, both with screening tests and with early detection.
I think Prostate Cancer Awareness Month really capitalizes on the public awareness for men who may be unaware of their risk of prostate cancer [and making sure they're] educated on it, them and their loved ones, [so they can] understand what the symptoms and the management approach would be for prostate cancer. Because of its significant outsized importance as a very common cancer, the month of September is dedicated to increasing that awareness.
We know that there are significant disparities in prostate cancer, with Black men being more likely to develop prostate cancer and more likely to die from it. Why does this occur?
Oh: I think this is a subject of continued active investigation. There probably are multiple reasons why African Americans are at greater risk of both developing prostate cancer and also of dying of it.
At least part of the disparity we know may be biological in nature, meaning that there may be some genetic risk factors that are more common in African American men than in others. We don't know what causes prostate cancer, but we know that there are genetic predispositions. There may also be environmental factors at play, including diet and environment. And then finally, there may be issues of health care access, which may be contributing.
So, my opinion is that there's probably multiple factors that lead to this disparity, this disparity in outcomes. And in particular, that's why it's most important to make African American patients aware of both their risk and of all opportunities for both early detection and intervention.