When Everett Myrick, 52, received a postcard stating he could earn a $50 gift card from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) for his annual checkup, he made an appointment. But he was shocked to learn he tested positive for prostate cancer.
“I’m an active person — I play in many softball leagues and I had no symptoms,” Myrick says. “I was going to the doctor regularly but then COVID hit and I got off track. When my doctor told me my PSA levels were high, I thought, 'where did this come from?' I had no symptoms or concerns to even think something was going on in my body.”
About one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. And if you’re a Black man or over age 65, the odds go up. When Myrick's urologist said he’s seeing more men at younger ages with prostate cancer, Myrick shared his story on Instagram hoping other Black men would follow his lead.
“I know a lot of men that don’t go to the doctor unless there is something wrong with them,” Myrick posted. “I need my peeps to schedule appointments and get checked out especially if u are 40 and older no matter if u think u are in the best shape of your life.”
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. In 2023, the ACS estimates there will be roughly 288,300 new cases of prostate cancer in the U. S. and 34,700 deaths. In Illinois, 7,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year.
Until Myrick shared his story, he didn’t know any other person with prostate cancer, but afterward a few who went through the same thing said they were embarrassed to go public with their stories. Now he wants to spread the word to help others get tested for cancer early while it’s easier to treat.
"African American men have the highest risk in the world of developing prostate cancer," said Dr. Courtney M. P. Hollowell, a nationally regarded prostate cancer expert and chairman of urology at Cook County Health.
“African American men tend to have the disease earlier in their lives and, when they’re diagnosed, tend to have a more advanced disease,” Hollowell said during a recent presentation to BCBSIL employees. Men, he noted, are 25% less likely to have seen a physician in the last year than women. “Let’s be honest, the ignorance-is-bliss approach to your health never works and what you don’t know can hurt you. There are things you can control in your life and things that are out of your control, like age and race. But even if they’re out of your control, you should still be informed about your risks.”
He added, “many men say their dad died of cancer, so they’ll die of cancer. But only about 10% of cancer is genetic, 90% is up to individuals and the things they do in their lives. In fact, recent evidence suggest healthy eating and regular exercise may have many health benefits, including lowering the risk of an advanced stage and the lethal form of prostate cancer.”
Prostate cancer can be detected by prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in blood or through a digital rectal exam. If either test is abnormal, additional testing, such as a prostate biopsy and/or prostate MRI, may be done to detect cancer. There are various recommendations available, so it’s important to discuss your risks and options with your doctor.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends men ages 55 to 69 begin receiving PSA screenings after discussion with their doctors, but not for men over 70.
In addition, the American Cancer Society recommends PSA screenings for:
- Men age 50 at average risk of prostate cancer and expected to live at least 10 more years.
- Men age 45 at high risk of developing prostate cancer. This includes African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father or brother) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65).
- Men age 40 at even higher risk (those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age).
Based on these guidelines and his experience, Dr. Hollowell noted African American men are 60% more likely to develop prostate cancer and twice as likely to die of the disease compared to other races.
Dr. Hollowell maked these recommendations:
- PSA test men in their mid-40’s to establish a baseline, especially African American men or men with first degree family history of prostate cancer (e.g., father or brother).
- Those with a baseline PSA <1 ng/mL have an extremely low risk of clinically significant prostate cancer and don’t need another PSA test until age 55.
- Those with a baseline PSA 1-3 ng/mL need a PSA test every two years.
- Those with a baseline PSA >3 ng/mL need to talk with their doctors about having a prostate biopsy and/or a prostate MRI.
- PSA testing should continue according to the baseline score for healthy men who have at least a 10-year life expectancy.
Although it’s good to find cancer early, there also are risks with screenings and overtreatment of the non-lethal form of prostate cancer. What’s most important is to talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.