Darcus Howe: 'My battle with prostate cancer'

Darcus Howe

Darcus Howe, the racial equality campaigner, is raising awareness of prostate cancer, which affects three times more black men than white men.

'The news came as a complete shock. I was feeling great ... I didn’t have any symptoms'

Darcus Howe

Howe is best known as the 'Devil's Advocate', the name of the current affairs television programme he presented in the mid-eighties. He was spurred on in his awareness efforts by his own battle with the disease.

“There’s ignorance of prostate cancer among black men,” he says. “Lives could be saved if they were more aware of this silent killer and got themselves tested.”

Howe, who is 67 and lives in south London, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer in April 2007.

He had been receiving treatment for type 2 diabetes, which he developed five years earlier, when routine tests showed the presence of protein in his urine.

He then had a blood test that revealed high levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA). This is a protein that healthy prostates produce in small amounts. The results of his blood test suggested that Howe could have prostate cancer.

Howe, who has five children and seven grandchildren, remembers vividly the day the consultant told him he probably had cancer.

“Beads of perspiration dripped from my face,” he says. “My entire body shook uncontrollably. Cancer to me meant death.

“I thought of my children and grandchildren. I felt guilty that I had given them so much worry.”

Until then, Howe had little knowledge of the condition. He didn’t realise at the time that prostate cancer may have killed both his father and his grandfather.

“I had heard of the prostate,” he says. “I knew it was a type of gland, but I didn’t know what it was or what it did.

“The news came as a complete shock. I was feeling great at the time. I was eating healthily. I exercised. I had played cricket all my life. I didn’t have any symptoms.”

His cancer was aggressive. The malignant cells had appeared at the edge of his prostate and, if left untreated, would enter his bones and eventually kill him.

He had his prostate gland removed in June 2007 and after a course of radiotherapy and hormone injections, he has been given the all clear.

Diet and genes link

'I feel sad that a lot of my friends have died from it. We used to talk about what we’d do when we retired'

Darcus Howe

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with more than 30,000 men diagnosed annually. Around 10,000 men die from it every year, making it the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men, after lung cancer.

If caught early, prostate cancer can be cured. If it has spread to the bones it can't be cured, and treatment focuses on prolonging life and relieving symptoms.

The main test for prostate cancer is the PSA test, but research is being done to find a more reliable testing method.

Black men are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men. Researchers are looking at what may be the cause of this increased risk, but diet and genes are thought to play an important role.

Howe learned that prostate cancer is hereditary in some cases. Having one or more close relatives with the disease increases your risk of developing prostate cancer yourself. He now believes both his father and his grandfather probably died from the disease, even though it had not been clinically diagnosed in either of them.

“My father's death certificate said he died from a urinary infection. As for my grandfather, ever since I was a child I have been told he died from ‘stoppage of water’.

“As a five-year-old, I had imagined that my grandfather had a tap fitted to his body which stopped working and killed him.”

Around a dozen of Howe's friends have died from prostate cancer in the last few years. Most of them were in their early sixties.

“I feel sad that a lot of my friends have died from it,” he says. “We used to talk about what we’d do when we retired. They worked hard all their lives after coming over from the Caribbean only to die soon after reaching retirement.

“It’s a miserable death. I have seen how it affects people. For me, the campaign to persuade black men to think about getting tested for prostate cancer starts here.”

Page last reviewed: 20/11/2014

Next review due: 20/11/2016

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