A visit to the barbershop can evolve into a moment that changes health outcomes.
Men across the country are receiving health screenings in tandem with their haircuts through the Black Barbershop Health Outreach program.
Founded in 2007 by Dr. Bill J. Releford, a Los Angeles-based podiatric surgeon, the initiative seeks to reduce health care disparities among African-American men through screening and education particularly around the areas of diabetes, high blood pressure and prostate cancer.
After encountering many Black men who needed to have limbs amputated due to uncontrolled diabetes, Releford was spurred to take action by launching the BBHOP.
The program has visited more than 20 cities including Philadelphia, enabling about 50,000 men to receive health screenings in about 750 barbershops. By arming men with pertinent health information, the hope is that they follow up with a medical provider. Program organizers have set a goal of reaching 500,000 men by 2014.
The initiative started off by screening men for high blood pressure and diabetes at participating barbershops. Educating men about prostate cancer has been added to the mix.
“The addition of prostate cancer came not just from my interest, but because Black men in the barbershop often raised a question about it,” says Dr. Stanley K. Frencher, a Los Angeles-based urologist who teamed up with the BBHOP.
Frencher notes that Black men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at 1.6 times the rate more than any other ethnic group, and they die disproportionately at two times the rate of other groups from the disease.
When men visit barbershops participating in outreach efforts, they are shown a culturally appropriate educational video about prostate cancer.
“If you look at the American Cancer Society guidelines and look at what the American Urological Association says about prostate cancer screenings — none of those organizations endorse screening per se, but what they do endorse is informing men of their choices,” Frencher noted.
“What we do is we ensure that Black men can have information that they can understand and digest, in a place that they trust,” he says.
“We inform them about the fact that prostate cancer screening is not foolproof but that they should have a discussion with their physician about their choices.”
During prostate cancer screenings, men undergo a baseline PSA (prostate specific-antigen) test, which measures proteins in the blood and a rectal exam.
The American Cancer Society noted that research has not yet proven that the benefits of testing outweigh the harms of testing and treatment. The ACS recommends that starting at age 50, men should talk to their doctors about the pros and cons of testing. For African-American men who have a father or a brother who had prostate cancer before age 65, these discussions should start at age 45.
The BBHOP is analyzing the impact of its prostate cancer outreach on men’s decisions to be screened for the disease.
“Some of our preliminary results show that men who didn’t understand the disease at all, now understand prostate cancer very well and changed their mind in terms of whether or not they wanted screening tests as a result of being educated about the disease,” Frencher pointed out.
Frencher recently partnered with Janssen Biotech, Inc., to raise awareness of the resources available for advanced prostate cancer patients on the website www.MyProstateCancerRoadmap.com
The BBHOP is also participating in a National Institutes of Health funded two-year project that measures the impact of the initiative on men’s health, particularly around the areas of diabetes and high blood pressure.
The initiative partners with local medical schools, civic and fraternal organizations administer the screenings and dissimilate health information at participating barbershops.
“We really believe that the way health care is going to be delivered is it’s not going to be in hospitals and clinics in the future, but rather by reaching out to people in the community where they are and getting them to embrace their health,” Frencher added.
Contact Tribune staff writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or AJones@phillytrib.com.