Two prominent Chicago Southland pastors are using themselves as examples as they spread awareness about prostate cancer screening to their congregations.
Universal Baptist Church’s Bishop Troy Garner and Pastor Edwin Harris of St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church are both prostate cancer survivors who were treated at Franciscan Health Olympia Fields.
Both are sharing their personal stories to encourage men, especially African-American men, to take steps to preserve their prostate health. Among them? Having regular cancer screenings.
"What hit me was when Dr. (James) Siegert thanked me for taking care of my health," Pastor Harris said. "Otherwise, in another year or two that conversation would have been totally different."
What Is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer develops in a man's prostate, a tiny, walnut-shaped gland situated between the pubic bone and rectum that makes the fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. It is usually a slow-growing cancer and often curable.
Although prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, it is very treatable and may not cause serious harm if found while still isolated in the prostate gland.
About 90% of men with prostate cancer have a five-year survival rate, and more than 60% live 10 years or longer after the disease is discovered and treated.
What Puts Men At Risk for Prostate Cancer?
Although it's unclear what causes prostate cancer, the greatest risk for disease is older age. More than 75% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men older than 65 years of age. Additional risk factors for prostate cancer include a family history of the disease, a fatty diet (meat and dairy) and a sedentary lifestyle. Black men develop and die from prostate cancer twice as often as caucasian men, for unknown reasons.
Two of the most common risk factors for prostate cancer include being of African-American ethnicity and having a first-degree male relative with prostate cancer. With this in mind, both Bishop Garner and Pastor Harris now make a point of encouraging men to see a urologist, especially in the Black community.
General guidelines suggest that men begin testing for prostate cancer starting at age 45 but for Black men, that age moves up to 40.
"Realizing they are at risk and understanding that prostate cancer is potentially their biggest health threat are probably the most important things for African-American men," said Dr. Siegert.
Pastor Harris was diligent about having his prostate specific antigen, or PSA test, checked when he turned 40.
"I know most guys don't, but when I hit 40, every time I had my annual check-up, I made sure they checked my PSA," he said.
What Is a Prostate Specific Antigen Test?
A prostate cancer screening typically consists of digital rectal exam, which physically checks the prostate for abnormal areas, or a PSA, or prostate specific antigen, blood test. The PSA test examines the level of prostate-specific antigens in the blood.
In general, results below 4.0 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter) are seen as normal. An elevated prostate-specific antigen level may indicate the presence of prostate cancer and may prompt additional testing or a biopsy to confirm whether cancer is present.
For Pastor Harris, his numbers were consistently within normal range until 2019. Then, a PSA test returned a score of 8.5. A biopsy revealed an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
For Bishop Garner, a March 2019 PSA screening returned a slightly higher result than normal.
"Given his age and ethnicity I was concerned," said urological surgeon James Siegert, DO, an independent physician who chooses to practice at Franciscan Health, "even though he exhibited no symptoms of prostate cancer."
A subsequent biopsy revealed that he too had an aggressive prostate cancer.
"Dr. Siegert could see the fear in my eyes," Bishop Garner said. "He would tell me to breathe, and kept saying that we’d get through this."
Does Prostate Cancer Have Symptoms?
Prostate cancer symptoms usually aren't noticed until long after the disease's development.
Common symptoms of prostate cancer include:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Trouble urinating
- Painful and burning urination
- Weakened urine stream
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Erectile dysfunction
- Painful ejaculation
- Discomfort in the pelvic area
- Bone pain
- General body stiffness
How Is Prostate Cancer Treated?
Treatment for prostate cancer depends on the patient, accounting for his age, overall health and whether the cancer has spread. If the cancer is in an early stage, then treatment may not be necessary right away. Some treatment options for prostate cancer include radiation therapy, hormone therapy, biological therapy, chemotherapy and surgical removal of the prostate gland.
Both Pastor Harris and Bishop Garner opted to have a robotic-assisted radical prostatectomy rather than endure weeks of radiation.
"These men had the needs of their parishioners and their families in mind," Dr. Siegert said. "So, they opted for the more definitive nature of that procedure."
"The Lord looks out for me and he puts good people around me," Bishop Harris said. "Dr. Siegert is one of my angels."