Just a simple blood test – prick of the needle, a vial to receive the specimen, and it's over, almost as quickly as it began.
The PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test is generally used to detect prostate cancer in men 50 years of age and older. Early detection can make the difference between surviving the disease and succumbing.
"Men's health is so important because we just don't get checked out like we should," said the Rev. Bartholomew Orr, senior pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss.
Men's Health is getting a month-long focus at Brown Baptist in June. Prostate cancer was center stage on June 3.
"A 79-year-old gentleman with the American Cancer Society gave an inspiring talk during service on his bout with prostate cancer," said Rev. Orr. "After service, men were asked to give blood samples as part of the early detection process for prostate cancer. I felt it was my duty to be first and set an example for the Brown Baptist Church family. We must, as men, begin to take greater responsibility for our health."
Dr. Rodney Franklin, a Brown Baptist member and pharmacist, applauded his pastor's resolve to lead by example.
"Pastor Orr has really been a tremendous advocate of promoting good health within the church body," said Dr. Franklin.
"I believe in holistic ministry," said Rev. Orr. "We as the church of Jesus Christ must be concerned, not only with the spiritual well-being of a person, but also the physical and mental conditions. The holistic approach to ministry deals with the whole man."
The Men's Health Summit at Brown Baptist annually draws hundreds of men each year from the West Tennessee region, said Dr. Franklin.
"Health disparity issues in our community continue to improve as we access available resources to raise awareness so that our people can not only make informed decisions concerning chronic conditions, but preventive measures can be discussed and implemented to eliminate certain health risks."
Identifying risk factors for chronic disease
Dr. Walter Rayford annually facilitates the Men's Health Summit at Brown Baptist.
"We try to encourage men to be proactive concerning their health, and the Men's Health Summit can function as a spring board to make that happen," said Dr. Rayford.
"Our recent Health and Wellness Fair provided free screenings of chronic conditions for our members and our community."
Diabetes, hypertension and obesity continue to pose serious health risks in the African-American community, said Dr. Rayford.
"Identifying risk factors goes a long way in helping everyone to be more proactive in taking responsibility for their health. We can't do much about our heredity, but we can develop healthy eating habits and exercise to maintain a healthy weight and minimize risk factors for chronic disease."
Prostate cancer – the causes
According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the third most common cause of death from cancer in men of all ages and is the most common cause of death from cancer in men over age 75. Prostate cancer is rarely found in men younger than 40.
People who are at higher risk include:
• African-American men, who are also likely to develop cancer at any age;
• Men who are older than 60;
• Men who have a father or brother with prostate cancer.
Other people at risk include:
• Men exposed to Agent Orange;
• Men who abuse alcohol;
• Men who eat a diet high in fat, especially animal fat;
• Tire plant workers;
• Men who have been exposed to cadmium.
The lowest number of cases occurs in Japanese men living in Japan (this benefit is lost after one generation of living in the U.S.) and those who do not eat meat (vegetarians).
A common problem in almost all men as they grow older is an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH). This problem does not raise your risk of prostate cancer.
What is the PSA test?
The blood test for prostate cancer detection is called the PSA test. It measures the level of PSA (prostate-specific antigen) in the blood. The doctor takes a blood sample, and the level is measured in a laboratory.
When an antigen is introduced into the body, it stimulates the production of an antibody – the body's natural, immune defense system. For a healthy prostate, the PSA level is generally low. But high levels of PSA can indicate the body's defense system is activating to fight against the generating of cancerous cells. The measure is used to detect disease and is sometimes called a "tumor marker."
The conventional prostate exam is called the DRE – digital rectal exam. During a DRE, a doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and feels the prostate gland through the rectal wall to check for bumps or abnormalities. Doctors will sometimes use the two exams together to determine whether further action is necessary. Or, a physician may recommend repeating the PSA test or performing other tests to check for evidence of a recurrence. The doctor may look for a trend of rising PSA measurements over time rather than a single elevated PSA level.
Dr. Rodney Franklin, a Brown Baptist member and pharmacist, said the blood test for prostate cancer is controversial in some circles.
"Some specialists feel that the test can do more harm than good in some cases," said Dr. Franklin. "We encourage men to speak with their physician regarding the blood test, and together, they can make the best decision on whether the test should be taken."