Myths, taboos and fears have led scores of black men in Leeds to make the fatal decision to ignore the symptoms of prostate cancer.
But Blacka Brown, from Chapeltown, was determined not to add to statistics that have led Public Health England to name Leeds as the worst area in the UK for early diagnosis of prostate cancer in black men.
Seven years ago the 53-year-old witnessed his father die from the disease, which black men have a one-in-four chance of developing – they are twice as likely as white men.
Blacka, who works as a CCTV and sound engineer, was one of the few to seek the advice of doctors early after noticing he was going to the toilet more often. He has been managing his early stage prostate cancer for five years.
“You’ve got characters in a community, and characters and well-known faces are always classed as bulletproof, so when someone like myself stands up and says I’ve got prostate cancer, it brings it to the forefront that I’m normal,” he said.
“If I can develop it, you can. It helps to tackle those myths that cancer equals death.”
Blacka acts as an ambassador for the Black Health Initiative (BHI), which is trying to break down the barriers to black men who traditionally don’t access health services or advice when they notice symptoms.
He claims the Chapeltown-based BHI’s work through the national ‘Hear Me Now’ project has seen several people he knows get cancer diagnoses after seeing signs such as passing urine more often or noticing blood in the urine.
Another Leeds BHI ambassador to speak out has been Pastor George Crawford, who is currently unwell. His father and older brother have died from the disease, while Pastor George and his four other brothers are all among the 3,700 men in the city living with prostate cancer.
Blacka explained that a major barrier for men with suspected prostate issues is the fear of invasive biopsies. He added: “My dad was a good example, and at the time I didn’t realise what the procedure was. I was there the second time and I’d never heard him swear until he went in. He never had the biopsy – he was fighting them.
“As a result they couldn’t treat him, it developed, spread to a secondary part of his body and he passed away.”
BHI has been part of the ongoing ‘Hear Me Now’ project. It raises aware of the symptoms and aims to boost access to GPs for ethnic minorities.
SHOCKING STATS WARRANT ACTION
Leeds is the worst area in the entire UK for early diagnosis of prostate cancer in black men.
New data released by Public Health England (PHE) ranks Leeds as number one in its top 20 highest risk areas, and is the only place in Yorkshire on that list.
It is thought that 68 per cent of the black men living with prostate cancer in Leeds were diagnosed in the later stages. There are around 3,700 men in Leeds living with prostate cancer and black men have a one-in-four chance of developing it. Visit prostatecanceruk.org.
GROWING NEED TO ‘ACT TOGETHER’ TO TACKLE CANCER INEQUALITIES
Charity leaders feel there is much work to be done to tackle the myths surrounding prostate cancer care in Leeds.
Heather Nelson, chief executive of the Chapeltown-based Black Health Initiative (BHI), has spoken of a need to expose statistics showing Leeds as the worst area in the UK for early diagnosis of prostate cancer among black men.
BHI has played a pivotal role in the national ‘Hear Me Now’ campaign to encourage more black men to seek medical advice when they notice the signs of prostate cancer.
Speaking in Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Month, Ms Nelson said the issue is long-standing, with many residents unaware of the symptoms and unwilling to access GPs.
She said: “When you’re working in communities, who see cancer as a taboo and a punishment for something them or their families have done, we need to break down those barriers. The disparities between cancer in the indigenous population and black men have been static since 2002, since the first research was published.”
She said there are black men in Leeds who have not accessed a GP in 40 years and that bridges need to be built.
Despite this, progress has been made in raising awareness of prostate cancer but it is hoped more will be done to back the likes of Hear Me Now.
Tony Wong, African and African Caribbean project manager at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Too many black men remain unaware of the stark danger they face. If we are going to put a stop to the number of black men dying from this disease every year, this needs to change. We need to act together and we need to act now. We are proud to be supporting the Hear Me Now programme to make this change happen.”
Prostate Cancer UK is bringing its awareness raising ‘One in Four Tour’ bus to Leeds’ Victoria Gardens today from 10am.