Black men develop prostate cancer 60% more often than white men. In addition, they have a higher chance of dying from it. Because of this heightened risk, Black men are encouraged to start prostate cancer screening early with yearly PSA tests and physical exams at age 40, and even earlier if they have a strong family history of prostate cancer exists.
This is a lesson that the preeminent Colin Powell knew very well.
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“When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 66, I wasn’t terribly surprised or shocked,” says Powell, a retired four-star United States Army general, 65th United States Secretary of State, and former National Security Advisor, Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “For the five years before that, I had been going for very regular checkups and my PSA was always high. It floated up and down. PSA alone doesn’t indicate cancer, it just says something is going on.”
Thankfully, Powell had the knowledge he needed to deal with this challenge, in addition to the understanding that cancer doesn’t care about reputation. In fact, Powell had been tracking and preparing for the diagnosis for several years. He was so diligent about watching for potential issues with his prostate that he had already gone through two biopsies before the third turned up positive for cancer.
“At that point, I knew sooner or later that something would show up,” he says. “And because I’m black, I have a higher propensity for prostate cancer than white folks do.”
Powell’s proactive approach to diagnosis then turned to a treatment strategy after consulting with his longtime doctor and bringing in a radiologist.
“I was just at the age where I decided, ‘I don’t want to fool with this, I don’t want to think about it’ and so I decided to go for the radical prostatectomy [removal of the prostate gland], as opposed to the radiation treatment,” he says. “As Secretary of State, I didn’t want to face the prospect of regular radiation therapy, as opposed to doing it all at once and taking care of it.”
Due to his high profile, Powell didn’t make his surgery public until the actual morning of the procedure. He was back at the State Department less than a week after the surgery, and with the support of his wife, children and office assistants, jumped right back into his daily routine.
While the choice to remove his prostate was something others facing treatments might not opt for today, Powell doesn’t want the impact of his individual story to get lost.
“The important point is that it is vitally important for men, particularly as you get older—say the age of 40 and beyond—to be regularly evaluated and go through the somewhat unpleasant procedures they
take you through, because it could be lifesaving,” he says. “Place a premium on taking care of yourself and getting the examination. I’m a great believer in preventive medicine…when something
is wrong, don’t hide it, look away from it and pretend it’s not there. Deal with it.”
New Advances In Prostate Therapy
Colin Powell: “When I Was Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer…” was originally published on blackdoctor.org