One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes, making it the most common cancer in American men aside from skin cancer. It’s also the second leading cause of cancer death in American men after lung cancer, though the survival rate is very high.
The disease is threatening enough, but there’s an added level of danger for Black Americans. Prostate cancer develops more often in African American men and in Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other ethnicities, and often when they’re younger, according to the American Cancer Society. African American men are over one and a half times more likely to get prostate cancer, and more than twice as likely to die from it.
“This particular issue of prostate cancer in Black men was particularly of interest to me and to others here at Johns Hopkins,” says Mohamad Allaf ’00, executive vice chairman of the Department of Urology. “If we can understand it, then we can help close the gap. But if we could study this in Black men, wouldn’t it apply to all men with aggressive prostate cancer as well? So from a scientific standpoint, there are multiple reasons why this is an interesting scientific question.”
With a gift of $5 million from the Fredrick D. and Karen G. Schaufeld Family Foundation, Allaf is the director of a new Brady Urological Institute program that takes a multipronged approach to reduce the impact of the disease. The Schaufeld Program for Prostate Cancer in Black Men, launched in July 2021, is a community-based program, advanced by the latest in Johns Hopkins scientific research and bolstered by a strong educational element, intended to attract students to the field who are drawn from the diverse populations they serve.
“This program will create a critical mass of scientists, educators and community leaders who are all thinking about this important problem, and hopefully can learn from each other,” says Tamara Lotan, professor of pathology and oncology and Schaufeld Program co-director, whose lab studies molecular biomarkers that signal genetic changes occurring in prostate tumors.
“We have the opportunity to catalyze a lot of work that’s already being done here, to really take it to another level and make it a self-sustaining and unified program.”
Along with the biological and genetic underpinnings of prostate cancer, the program aims to address wide-ranging issues like eliminating barriers to care in underserved communities, empowering patients to determine their treatment and providing education on healthy lifestyle measures to prevent cancer.
“It’s important that we get people the right care and usher them through the process without limitations of insurance and all the other barriers that potentially exist — scheduling issues, transportation,” Allaf says. “We want this to be a seamless program that takes care of all these barriers. And if in the process, we could help reduce the barriers permanently by partnering with our community leaders, politicians and others, I think that would be wonderful.”
Ultimately, the goal is for the program’s influence to spread beyond Baltimore and Washington, D.C., but community focus and participation will remain key components of its approach.“I personally will be contributing and partnering with our local community in Baltimore City — specifically the neighborhoods around our hospital in our own backyard,” Allaf says. “I feel that there’s so much work that we’ve done at Hopkins in our community, but there is also so much more we can do to continue and renew a relationship with the community that is positive and everlasting. And that, to me, is one of the most exciting opportunities.”