Walnut Foundation launches lifesaving initiative

By Lincoln DePradine

A collaborative effort involving Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and several service organizations, is underway to help reduce the incidence of prostate cancer among men of African descent in Canada.

Research indicates that Black men may be genetically predisposed to prostate cancer, have a higher risk of developing the cancer, and are more likely to experience more severe disease at a younger age.

Anthony Henry

“We really want to pull out the stops to get men out, and to get the message out about the importance of screening,’’ Anthony Henry, president of The Walnut Foundation (TWF), told The Caribbean Camera, in commenting on a “Detect and Protect’’ free mobile health clinic to be held this Saturday, January 13, at the North York headquarters of the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA).

TWF is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2007 that seeks to increase awareness in the Black community about prostate cancer. Early detection, members say, saves lives.

The foundation also provides information about diagnosis, treatment and follow-up practices.

Saturday’s community outreach health clinic at the JCA Centre, 995 Arrow Road, is one of a planned series that includes not just TWF, Jamaican Canadian Association and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, but also TAIBU Community Health Centre; Black Creek Community Health Centre; Jamaica Ex-Firefighters; Jamaica Ex-Soldiers; Association of Jamaican Alumni Association, and the Lions’ Circle.

Organizers, underscoring the significance of the series of clinics, released statistics showing that a male Black is diagnosed with prostate cancer “every 13 seconds’’; that “one in six Black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer’’; and that “Black men are two times more likely to die from prostate cancer than other populations’’.

Prostate cancer accounts for one in five male cancers in Canada; however, Black men have three times the risks of having more aggressive disease than Caucasians.

The clinics target Black men, who are entering their 40s, providing them with prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing, at no charge to them.

“The target is 40-year-old Black males who have not had a PSA test in the past 12 months; who don’t have a medical doctor. We think a part of the problem with this is that some of these guys don’t have family doctors,’’ said Henry, a financial advisor by profession.

The PSA is a simple blood test in which a sample is analyzed and an early diagnosis could be made on whether cancer is present.

The first in the clinic series was held last September at TAIBU Centre in Scarborough’s Malvern community. More than 100 people attended.

“What was good about the first one is that we got quite a few younger men showing up, which is what we want. We want men to start getting screened at 40. We want to catch them before they have aggressive disease,’’ Henry said.

“The recommendation is for the wider population to start testing at 50 years. But, for our demographics, the recommendation is that you start at 40.’’

Among those screened and receiving the PSA tests last September, “about 20 to 25 percent required follow up’’, Henry disclosed. “It tells us that there is something going on out there that leads to cancer; and so, this is an attempt to get at the problem.’’

Apart from early screening, Henry stressed the need to know one’s family history, pointing to his own experience.

“Somebody like myself, I’m one of four family members impacted by prostate cancer. My father died from this thing; and, a big part of the reason for that, is because he wasn’t screened,’’ Henry said.

OHIP, the Ontario government-backed health insurance scheme, does not cover PSA testing for all Ontarians, limiting provincial payment to patients that are considered to be in a high-risk group.

Advocacy, to get universal PSA testing through OHIP and not paid out-of-pocket by patients, is part of ongoing efforts by TWF and other organizations.

“The Ontario government doesn’t cover the cost of all PSA tests. They do for some limited cases. For example, men who know their family history and their doctor knows their family history. The doctor would say this guy is at high risk, and this person wouldn’t have to pay,’’ said Henry.

As part of an added incentive to encourage participation in Saturday’s clinic, men undergoing screening are also being offered snacks and free haircuts and massages.

The “Detect and Protect’’ prostate screening clinic at the JCA begins 10 am and runs until 3 pm.