Why African American Families are Important to Prostate Cancer Studies

“He who leaves truth behind, returns to it,”

Meaning that a person who does something good somewhere, when he comes back, people receive him with gladness.      

                                                                                                                              Swahili Proverb

One out of every five American men will develop prostate cancer in his lifetime. That means about 232,000 new cases this year, with 30,350 deaths. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among Americans, after lung cancer.

For African American men, the risk is even higher. In general, they have the highest rate of prostate cancer of any ethnic subgroup in the world. Some studies indicate a rate twice as high as white men.


We don’t really know. Some studies say this might be caused by a delayed diagnosis, diet, hormones and/or  genetics.

One thing researchers have known for a long time is that FAMILY MATTERS! Men with a father, brother or son with prostate cancer have a 200% to 300% added risk of developing the disease. This is twice as high as the population in general. Some studies also indicate that when the disease comes before age 65 there could be a strong genetic link. Even the relatives of men who get it before age 65 tend to have a higher risk of prostate cancer.

Also, the more cases in a family, the higher the risk to other male relatives. What that means is that men with just one single case of prostate cancer in the family have about a 200% increase. This risk goes up to 500% when there are two close relatives (father, brother, son).

These strong family connections mean that we need to study more families with prostate cancer if we are to learn what causes the disease and how it is passed on.

Several genetic studies have focused on Caucasian families and these suggest that several genes are involved in inherited prostate cancer. We have to remember, however, that genetic risk factors differ among families.

Here, at LSU Health Sciences Center, our research is focused on African Americans, the group most at risk. We need to collect a lot more information on African Americans with family histories of prostate cancer to determine if the genes reported in Caucasian families are also important for African American families.

This is vital information because prostate cancer in African Americans could be caused by a different set of genes. It could also be that the same genes are involved in both populations, but with a higher frequency in the African American population.

We just don’t know and that is why African American families can make a difference. Participation by African Americans in genetic studies will help to resolve some of the issues concerning the high occurrence of prostate cancer in this group.

Also, by finding or confirming the location of genes that cause prostate cancer, we can make modern screening procedures so much more effective. Since 1998, about 15,000 free cancer screenings have been given by LSU Health Sciences Center to men in our community. Imagine how we could improve on this program if we had more complete information on the genes responsible for prostate cancer.

The bottom line is that genetic family studies will help to reduce the death rate among African Americans. By knowing more, we can diagnose at an earlier stage, when treatment is more effective. The five-year survival rate for patients whose cancer is treated before it has spread outside the prostate gland is almost 100%. By caring about each other, we can do more to prevent cancer from causing death. To quote another African proverb, this time from the Burundi tribe:

“In harmony, everything succeeds”

Here at the LSU Health Sciences Center, in the Department of Genetics, we are conducting a genetic study of prostate cancer in African American men with two or more relatives having the disease. This includes uncles, grandfathers and cousins, in addition to fathers, brothers and sons.

The purpose of this study is to collect data from high-risk African American families (where more than one individual has been affected with prostate cancer) and use that information to determine if prostate cancer risk in this population is due to genes in the same or different regions than in white Americans. The data collected will help to resolve some of the issues concerning the high occurrence of prostate cancer in African Americans. In the future, men could be identified as having the specific risk factor or not. Prostate cancer gene carriers could be followed carefully so that any cancers that may develop are found at an early stage, when the cancers are most likely to be curable. Therefore, the information found may help with cancer prevention plans.

You may contact Dr. Diptasri Mandal (e-mail prcastudy@lsuhsc.edu) or one of her research associates at (504) 568-4400 for more information. If you feel your family may qualify to participate, you may click on the form below, complete and submit.

Dr. Diptasri Mandal
Department of Genetics
LSU Health Sciences Center
533 Bolivar Street, 6th floor
New Orleans, LA 70112

Cancer Study Information Form

View article written by Dr. Mandal: "Genetics of Prostate Cancer: Role of Family History"