Barbershops are spaces where men shoot the breeze, hang with friends and get a trim. Thanks to a new Case Western Reserve University program, it’s where they’ll be able to learn about prostate cancer by year’s end.
In Cuyahoga County, Black men have a disproportionate risk of being diagnosed and dying from prostate cancer as compared to white men. Researchers at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center are addressing this health disparity with a community-based program that will disseminate prostate cancer information in the Black community through barbershops.
CWRU’s Cleveland African American Prostate Cancer Project received a new $2.75 million, three-year grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, the university said.
Cancer of the prostate gland — a small, walnut-shaped organ that produces fluid that nourishes and transports sperm — is the second-leading cause of death in American men, behind lung cancer. There will be nearly 250,000 new cases diagnosed n 2021, and about 34,000 deaths, the American Cancer Society estimates.
The Cleveland African American Prostate Cancer Project will train community navigators to visit participating barbershops to pave the way for the businesses to host prostate cancer educational events,said prostate cancer project director Erika Trapl. Attendees will be encouraged to get a prostate cancer screening from their regular doctor.
Urban Kutz Barbershops owner Waverly Willis began encouraging conversations about diet and health years ago, when he realized he was losing clients who refused to go to a doctor until it was too late. “(Men) don’t go to the doctor unless something is falling off,” said Willis, who is a member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center Community Advisory Board and executive director of the Urban Barber Association nonprofit group.
Now the conversation in his two Urban Kutz barbershop locations are just as likely to be about veggie recipes and the Keto diet as the Browns and Cavs, he said. Willis wants to get a clinic mobile unit to visit his barbershops to run prostate cancer screenings as part of the CWRU initiative.
“Barbershops are one of the most trusted institutions in our community,” Willis said. “Cancer affects all of us in some way, shape or fashion. I just want to change the conversation.”
Community education events in barbershops will start at the end of the year, if it’s safe to hold in-person events by then. Trapl plans to look for additional funding to allow the education and screening program to continue beyond its initial three years.
She hopes the barbershop outreach program will make it more normal for men to discuss the illness. She finds it curious that men wear pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, even though they are much more likely to get prostate cancer.
“It doesn’t get talked about,” Trapl said about prostate cancer. “I think there is a growing recognition we need to elevate it as a discussion, because as soon as we do that, having that discussion in a barbershop doesn’t seem quite as weird.”