Researchers to lead Northeast Ohio initiative to increase prostate cancer screening in African American men

African American men in Cuyahoga County have a 60% increased risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and an 80% increased risk of dying from prostate cancer compared to white men, according to data from the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center (Case CCC). With a new $2.75 million, three-year grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) Foundation, Case CCC researchers will collaborate with a team of community partners in a different approach to overcome this health disparity. 

Erika Trapl

The Cleveland African American Prostate Cancer Project, directed by Erika Trapl, associate professor in the department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at the School of Medicine, director of the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement at the Case CCC and director of the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods will develop and implement a comprehensive, sustainable, community-based program to increase the number of African American patients screened for prostate cancer. 

Trapl, the research project’s principal investigator, said prostate cancer does not have any known modifiable risk factors, so early screening is the only way to reduce prostate cancer mortality. 

“The best bet is to identify prostate cancer early and reduce late-stage diagnosis,” Trapl said. 

To reach that goal, she has established a team of researchers that includes experts in cancer disparities, social work, bioethics, culturally-specific intervention development, urology, genetic epidemiology, community outreach and dissemination and implementation science.

The collaboration includes the Case CCC Community Advisory Board, the Urban Barber Association, Cleveland Department of Public Health, Office of Minority Health, The Gathering Place, University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer, MetroHealth Cancer Center and the Cleveland Institute for Computational Biology. The team hopes to engage other partners as the work grows.

The project is designed to: develop and evaluate a community-based prostate cancer screening program; increase the number of African American men who receive baseline prostate-specific antigen (PSA) diagnoses, a strong predictor of future development of aggressive prostate cancer; and establish awareness of prostate cancer risk and reduce cancer disparities. The initiative has four objectives:

  • Create a culturally and linguistically appropriate approach to prostate cancer screening education and testing in partnership with barbers, community navigators and health care providers. 
  • Develop and implement a Community Navigation program that provides supportive services and returns screening results, ensuring that the needs of participants and their families are met.
  • Implement prostate cancer education and screening in barbershops for African American men (ages 40 and older). 
  • Convene regional grassroots and institutional partners to raise awareness of prostate cancer disparities and screening.

The idea for the project was born at a Case CCC Community Advisory Board meeting last year. 
To ensure community needs are considered from a project’s beginning through execution, the board considers a proposed research project’s impact on the community and ensures that complicated science is translated to simplified language, making it easier to understand. 

“Our board pushed us to bring the work to locations central to men’s lives, such as barbershops,” Trapl said. “From there, the idea has taken off, thanks to the partnership of people living in this community facing these genuine issues. We hope it will become a national model.” 

The BMS Foundation promotes health equity and seeks to improve the health outcomes of populations disproportionately affected by serious diseases by strengthening health care worker capacity, integrating medical care and community-based supportive services and mobilizing communities in the fight against disease.