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Durham, N.C. -- William "Bill" Small had been undergoing routine prostate screenings for about 20 years before cancer was detected three years ago.

"There wasn't any recognizable sign," said Small, 65. "I wasn't having any problems that would've led me to believe anything was out of the ordinary."

In fact, most men who develop prostate cancer record no early symptoms. "It can be a silent killer," said Small, a retired university dean. "Sometimes the only way to know is through screening."

Small was screened both at his doctor's office and at free screenings, like the ones being offered this weekend at Lincoln Community Health Center and Duke University Medical Center.

Men like Small, who is African-American and has a family history of prostate cancer—his brother was diagnosed as well—are at increased risk of developing the disease.

"African-American males are more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as are white men," said Marva Mizell Price, assistant professor and director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at Duke University School of Nursing. Price, along with urologist Cary Robertson, MD, has been studying the reluctance of African-American men to be screened, both initially and continually, and is working to find ways to encourage these men to return yearly for screenings.

"Men have not been socialized to think about getting an annual check the way women are about pap Pap smears," said Price.

More than 30,000 men die each year of prostate cancer, out of the 200,000 men who are diagnosed with the disease annually. If detected early, treatment can be extremely effective.

Small, who had surgery in the wake of his diagnosis, is now cancer-free and continues to be screened on a regular basis.

"You may think you're living well and doing the right things," he said. "But there can be some very serious things happening in your body and you don't know it, and prostate cancer is one of those things."

Yearly screenings are recommended for men over 40 who are in high-risk groups, and men over 50 who are not at risk. The majority of prostate cancer cases occur in men over 50, with 70 percent of cases occurring in men over the age of 65.

This weekend's screenings are open to men 40 years of age and older, and will include a digital rectal exam to detect and any abnormalities of the prostate and a blood test to screen for elevated levels of a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, that may indicate cancer. Educational materials about prostate cancer and prostate health will also be distributed.

Men can be screened on Saturday, Sept. 18 at Lincoln Community Health Center, from 8 a.m. to noon, or on Sunday, Sept. 19 at Duke University Medical Center's Morris Cancer Clinic from noon to 4 p.m.

The screenings are sponsored by the Duke University Health System and Lincoln Community Health Center, and are co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Durham Regional Hospital and Cornucopia House.

For more information about the Lincoln Community Health Center screenings, call (919) 956-4000. To find out more about the Duke screening, call (919) 684-3786 extension 245.
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