Eliminating disparity in prostate cancer – an interview with Thomas A. Farrington of the Prostate Health Education Network

Sep 2, 2016
Eliminating disparity in prostate cancer – an interview with Thomas A. Farrington of the Prostate Health Education Network

The Prostate Health Education Network (PHEN) was founded in 2003 by Thomas A. Farrington three years after his own diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer. The Network’s goal is to improve education around issues in prostate health specifically within the African-American community.

Thomas A. Farrington, president and founder of the PHEN, spoke to Change Together about the work of the organization and its upcoming 12th Annual African-American Prostate Cancer Disparity Summit.

Why was the Prostate Health Education Network established?

I founded PHEN following my own experience with prostate cancer. I realized through my own research that there wasn’t much information out there for me to educate myself about my condition – specifically in regards to my ethnicity.

I decided to do something about it and founded PHEN with the specific mission to eliminate the African-American prostate cancer disparity through better education and awareness of the issues.

We mainly focus on improving what is a considerable lack of knowledge about prostate issues. We do that by discussing issues such as Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) testing, treatment options and managing survivorship post-treatment.

How much of a disparity is there in prostate cancer mortality rates?

African-American men are diagnosed at a rate 60 percent higher than white American men.1 They have a mortality rate 2.3 percent higher than white American men1, which is one of the largest disparity rates in any type of cancer affecting both men and women.2 The same mortality disparity can be seen worldwide.3

Could you describe the challenges you face in achieving your organization’s objectives and how you go about addressing these?

A key challenge for us is raising the visibility of prostate health issues in related communities. For example, how do we reach men and their family members? In order to address these issues, we have partnered with a lot of community groups, particularly church groups and other African-American organizations to help spread our message.

We also have plenty of different schemes which we group under the umbrella of Rally Against Prostate Cancer (RAP) initiatives, the largest of which is our Father’s Day Rally which we host on Father’s Day. We host educational symposia in about 20 cities each year at some of the 300 church partners we have and supply speakers to help raise awareness. We are now looking to launch a clinical trial rally in an effort to educate and increase African-American participation in clinical trials.

Of course, another of our biggest RAP initiatives is our annual African-American Prostate Cancer Disparity Summit.

Why was the African-American Prostate Cancer Disparity Summit originally launched?

Prostate cancer has the highest diagnosis rate of any type of cancer for men with around 230,000 men diagnosed every year resulting in around 27,500 deaths from the disease.2

We noticed that there wasn’t anyone bringing together medical specialists with policy makers, pharmaceutical industry leaders and advocacy leaders in this field so decided to launch the summit in 2005 to bring these people together to discuss strategies for how we can work together to reduce the disparity.

What are the key issues that will be discussed at this year’s summit?

There are three primary topics this year. One issue to be discussed will be PSA testing. We will have the Chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) presenting along with other thought leaders on the topic.

African-American male participation in clinical trials will also be discussed. This is another area where there is a considerable disparity as most trials do not have an accurate representation of African-American men in them.4

Finally, educating and mobilizing the community around prostate cancer issues will be a key topic. A number of leaders will demonstrate their successful approaches to this issue, talking about the key challenges they faced and how they overcame them.

What are some of the highlights from your previous summits?

The now U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at our first three annual summits. During one of his speeches, he presented a resolution to recognize prostate cancer as an issue of epidemic proportion to black men. The resolution was passed in 2012 under Senate Resolution 529 and it was all born from our summit.

PHEN’s 12th Annual African-American Prostate Cancer Disparity Summit will take place September 15–16, 2016, at the Capitol Hill and Washington Convention Center. For more information, visit the PHEN website.

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  1. National Cancer Institute (2012). SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975–2012. Available from: http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2013/results_merged/sect_23_prostate.pdf (accessed September 2016).
  2. American Cancer Society (2015). Cancer Facts & Figures 2015. Available from: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@editorial/documents/document/acspc-044552.pdf (accessed September 2016).
  3. Odedina FT, et al. Infect Agent Cancer 2009; 4 Suppl 1:S2.
  4. Ahaghotu C, et al. Clin Genitourin Cancer 2016; 14(2):105-16.
Eliminating disparity in prostate cancer – an interview with Thomas A. Farrington of the Prostate Health Education Network

Thomas A. Farrington was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000. He describes himself as being completely uninformed about every aspect of the disease, especially his extremely high risk level. During his treatment period, Mr. Farrington continued to study prostate cancer and decided that his unsettling experience facing the disease, along with the experiences of other men in treatment with him could help others that would follow them along their journey of hope to beat prostate cancer.

In 2001 he released “Battling The Killer Within.” The book provided an insightful look at men facing prostate cancer and the prostate care system in the United States. It highlighted the harsh impact of this system on Black men contributing to the disparity they experience. ”Battling The Killer Within” became a nationally acclaimed book.

In 2003, Mr. Farrington founded the Prostate Health Education Network, a Boston, Massachusetts based non-profit organization to focus on the urgent and unmet prostate education and awareness needs of African American men. In 2005, Mr. Farrington released his second book; “Battling The Killer Within and Winning.”

Professionally, Mr. Farrington is an entrepreneur and business executive with more than 30 years’ experience in the Information Technology industry. In 1969, he founded Input Output Computer Services, Inc. where he served as president and chairman. This company was a pioneer in the evolution of IT professional services.

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