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Dr. Rudy Lombard works to educate men about prostate cancer

Dr. Rudy Lombard

Dr. Rudy Lombard

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Updated: October 18, 2013 2:25PM

Talking about prostate cancer makes people look down at their feet and want to change the subject. I know because I talk about it every day.

Ten years ago, at age 64, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the time, I wasn’t experiencing any preliminary symptoms of the disease. I was completely blindsided.

Upon my diagnosis — which came as a result of an annual prostate cancer screening — I visited a half-dozen major cancer centers across the country to become better informed about the disease and my treatment options.

I quickly learned that as an African-American male, I was 60 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer, and 2.4 times more likely to die from the disease than white men my age. Nearly 30,000 American men will die from the disease in 2013, but the diagnosis disproportionately affects African Americans.

From my research, this discrepancy primarily results from a combination of medical, genetic and socioeconomic differences, including the fact that African-American men often face greater barriers to access medical care and — when they can — are often reluctant to see doctors.

Like many others, I find this disaprity both startling and frustrating, which is what led me to my work as a research scientist at NorthShore University HealthSystem’s John and Carol Walter Center for Urological Health. We partner with churches and local leaders, coordinating health forums and affordable screenings to give underserved African Americans and Latinos convenient access to information and care. We encourage wives, daughters, sisters and mothers to get involved — men respond to the women in their lives. Our hope is to connect those at-risk with local support services and to eliminate the stigma surrounding prostate cancer screenings. The fear and perception is much worse than reality.

I see this as an extension of a lifetime of advocating for change. I was a leader of the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and participated in sit-ins at a New Orleans lunch counter. I was arrested with some colleagues and an ensuing lawsuit in my name — Lombard v. Louisiana — made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in our favor and it became one of the key cases in striking down segregationist public accommodation laws and practices. I now see these persistent and dramatic health disparities affecting blacks and other minorities as the 21st century equivalent of the civil rights movement.

Despite the recent controversy regarding when to begin prostate cancer screenings, most experts continue to recommend screenings for African-American men older than 40 and all other men older than 50. These tests allow for early detection, which can be the difference between finding a highly treatable cancer and one that can be life-threatening.

I believe information is key to a healthy life. September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month, and the perfect time to discuss the disease with loved ones and to research the signs and symptoms of this silent killer. As a community, we can bring prostate cancer out of the shadows and equip those most at risk with the information and resources they need to lead healthy lives.

For more info on how you or a loved one can get access to cancer screenings and additional healthcare services, visit

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