Innovative SC AMEN project puts spotlight on Black men, prostate cancer

May 21, 2021
Lee Moultrie stretches his legs before a walk on a wooded path
Prostate cancer survivor Lee Moultrie encourages Black men in his community to lead active and healthy lifestyles and is an ambassador for prostate cancer screenings. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Lee Moultrie likes to talk straight. To get it out there. When men gather to talk about their favorite Super Bowl play or basketball team, he’ll bring up the other issue they should be discussing — like do they know when they should get screened for prostate cancer.

“It’s important because most men don’t discuss their health. It has to be a normal everyday discussion,” he said. “We will talk about who’s your favorite basketball player or football team, but then I’ll ask, ‘At what age did you get your first testicular exam or your first prostate exam?’”

He’s often met with silence. Moultrie, a prostate cancer survivor, laughs and admits it can be a conversation stopper, but then he’s quick to educate men that they should start testicular cancer screening when they are young and then add prostate screenings to the list in their 40s.

It’s why he’s excited that MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is starting the AMEN Program this spring, and he’ll be one of its biggest ambassadors. The 15-month project, led by cancer researcher Marvella Ford, Ph.D., associate director of Population Sciences and Cancer Disparities, will focus on Black men age 40 to 65 years, the recommended age group for prostate cancer screening.

“It focuses on an area that is really critically important, which is prostate cancer in Black men,” she said. “We know that in South Carolina, Black men die of prostate cancer at a rate that's nearly three times higher than for white men with prostate cancer, and so that's a real problem. And we absolutely know that if we can screen more men and educate people about prostate cancer and then help to deliver screening, then we will be able to reduce the mortality rates.”

graphic showing the Amen Program aims of education, navigation, and follow-up assessment survey 

Here’s how the program works. Its three aims are:

  • To deliver monthly prostate cancer education sessions to Black men, focusing on ways to increase prostate cancer screening in their communities.
  • To provide navigation services for those who attend the prostate cancer educational sessions to resolve any barriers they may face in getting prostate cancer screening.
  • To administer a follow-up survey to each program participant to assess prostate cancer screening rates following the education session.

Ford said she’s grateful for community involvement such as that of TD Bank, which has partnered with Hollings to fund the project. “TD Bank really approached us with a request for a project that focused on cancer disparities, especially disparities in Black men. They saw the data, and they saw the need, and they allowed us to craft a project that would really help to meet that specific need.”

Scott Sharp, South Coast regional vice president, TD Bank, explained the company’s vision. “TD recognizes that corporations have a responsibility to lead with purpose, enabling our customers, colleagues and communities to have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing world," he said.

"We do this through the TD Ready Commitment, the bank's corporate citizenship platform, which aims to drive social, economic, health and environmental impact, including support of programs such as AMEN at Hollings Cancer Center, in order to create more equitable health care outcomes for all."

A big appeal of the AMEN Program to community partners is that it focuses on helping people to lead healthier lives and encourages prostate cancer screening and awareness to detect diseases at earlier stages. That way interventions can occur sooner, making them less costly and more effective.

“Unfortunately, the reality is, access to quality health care, including awareness and advancements related to early screening and intervention, may not be experienced equally across all communities and may differ based on a number of factors,” Scott said. “These factors include race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and cultural nuances, to name a few. The AMEN Program's efforts in breaking down these barriers, ensuring a continuum of care, and measuring success is what appealed to us.”

Ford said community partnerships are integral to the mission of Hollings, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. TD Bank’s support enables her team to reach out to minority men in their communities and give them the support and education they need to bypass barriers.

There are a lot of social determinants of health and contextual factors that contribute to the disparities that are being seen. “With health care matters,” Ford said, “sometimes men are ignored, and sometimes they ignore their own symptoms. I think we just need to have a combination of giving people the educational tools that they need and also providing institutionalized support in terms of linking them with health care facilities where they can receive screening and other treatments that they need.”

“Black men have a lot of pressure and a lot of stresses in society. What we want to do consistently is to let Black men know that their lives matter to us, and that they are important to their families, their communities, to the state and to Hollings Cancer Center.”
— Dr. Marvella Ford

Ford said that everyone who participates will receive a $50 gift card at the start of the program and then another $50 when they complete a three-month follow-up survey. At each session, there will be giveaways, so there are incentives to participate. The men who go through the program will become ambassadors in their own neighborhoods, spreading the word. And, most importantly, they’ll be getting the care they need.

“That’s why we built navigation into the AMEN Program because we want to make sure that we are helping them get to the screening sites and helping them navigate the distance both geographically, culturally, emotionally and socially,” she said.

“Black men have a lot of pressure and a lot of stresses in society. What we want to do consistently is to let Black men know that their lives matter to us, and that they are important to their families, their communities, to the state and to Hollings Cancer Center.”

Ford is passionate about this project because of her own history. All four of her grandparents had died by the time she was born. “I think as a child, growing up and not having any grandparents, I just felt that as a tremendous loss, and I've realized now I can put it into a larger context that life expectancy is shorter in Black people,” she said.

She’s dedicated her career to addressing health disparities in general. “The focus is to really help family members enjoy each other for as long as possible because so many Black people are dying prematurely, when they could have lived another 10, 15 or even 20 years. This would have been long enough for them to have seen the births of their grandchildren and to see their grandchildren graduate from elementary school, high school, college, get married and maybe even see their great-grandchildren.”

Moultrie couldn’t agree more. “As a Black man at 64 years old, I want to get people engaged,” he said, praising the project for getting important health care conversations started in Black communities. “I don’t believe in excuses or in being a victim. I feel a responsibility as an elder in society to speak out and have this conversation with other men. Yes, men do want to talk about health issues because we want to live longer lives, and I’ve found people appreciate you sharing that information with them.”

For more information, visit the AMEN Program website or email Melanie Slan at slan@musc.edu.

Dr. Marvella Ford in the hallway at MUSC.

Let the People Say AMEN!

Dr. Raymond N. DuBois and Dr. Marvella Ford discuss cancer health disparities, prostate cancer in Black men, and Hollings' innovative community outreach efforts like the new AMEN Program.

Episode & Transcript