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It is a statistical fact, and certainly no secret, that African American men continue to take more of a beating from prostate cancer than men from any other ethnic background in this country. They are more likely to get prostate cancer. They are less likely to detect it early and they are more likely to die from it. Remember, overall, prostate cancer has a high rate of survivability.

While there is a genetic predisposition that accounts for a higher number of cases, a recent study indicates that the other two issues, early detection and mortality, may have more to do with attitudes and beliefs than any medical reasoning.

The two findings that really stand out in this study have to do with “cancer fatalism” and “religious coping”. Cancer fatalism, as I understand it, is a kind of giving in to the idea that there isn’t much a man can do about cancer. If you get, you get it….if you get it, you’ll likely die from it. While that is probably an oversimplification of the issue, it is cancer fatalism that sets a person’s attitude about screening and early detection. African American men are less likely to get regular screening, so when prostate cancer is detected, it is generally detected in later stages with a higher mortality experience.

The study used three groups of black men, American born African Americans, African Americans who immigrated from Nigeria, and African men living in Nigeria. The logic of the three groups is that generally the genetic makeup, the DNA pool is the same. Most African slaves came from the Nigerian/West African area.

The other finding was interesting, that having to do with religious coping. More than religion, this studied looked at spiritual coping skills and how possessing those skills improved the chances of successful treatment of cancer.

Separating out African American men, the other two groups, Nigerians and West African immigrants were 22% less likely to have a fatalistic cancer attitude and 60% more likely to have the religious coping skills to carry them successfully through treatment.

Another factor that was mentioned, one I touched on in a post earlier this week, is that obesity can make early detection of prostate cancer harder due to a process called hemodilution.

Since African Americans are more prone to obesity and diabetes, these other medical issues can serve to mask the ability to detect early stage prostate cancer.

Bottom line. Each person has to examine life and make their own decisions about how to live it out. Having a fatalistic attitude may make sense to some. You live a good life. You get sick. You die. While I doubt that life insurance underwriters are trying to weigh people’s attitudes, the mortality figures that result from those attitudes are not ignored when considering life insurance.