Addressing global health problems from Milledgeville
bout one out of every eight men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime.
In 2020, about 18.8 per 100,000 men in the U.S. died of prostate cancer (American Cancer Society). But this rate is doubled for non-Hispanic Black men, who die from the same disease at a rate of 37.5 per 100,000 men.
That’s what Dr. Ernest Kaninjing is working to find out.
An associate professor of public health at Georgia College & State University, Kaninjing is part of a global effort to understand why Black men of different ethnicities experience worse prostate cancer outcomes. One of his research projects focuses on African immigrant men, who have even worse survivorship numbers.
“We’re trying to prevent that—and narrow the gap,” Kaninjing said.
“The communities we work with are counting on us as the experts—the scientists in the field—to update them about trends, recent developments in treatment, care and survivorship,” he said. “We’re not just doing research to collect data for the sake of it, we’re doing research to help improve health outcomes.”
Instead of comparing Black and white patients, Kaninjing is investigating “within group differences”—differences between cultures that shape many Black ethnicities.
“Caribbean immigrants, African immigrants, African Americans—there are significant cultural differences that may influence or impact some of the disparities we’re seeing,” he said.
His research is particularly relevant to Milledgeville-Baldwin County, where 42% of the population identify as Black or African American.
For the last five years, he’s worked with Georgia College students and residents to discover what’s causing these differences in survivorship for Black men and what healthcare providers can do to stop it.
In the meantime, Kaninjing and his community of advocates are sharing all the information they can to prevent those high death rates. The good news is: When found early, prostate cancer is curable with a survivorship rate of over 97% over five years.
Kaninjing is connected to more than 100 members of the Milledgeville-Baldwin community, and that number continues to expand. At each town hall he hosts alongside community leaders, there are new
people willing to help spread the word.
“Right now, I have a community partner, Donald ‘Don’ Reese, who’s a master barber. He’s been in Milledgeville for over 17 years, he’s well known and he’s a survivor,” Kaninjing said. “He’s an advocate, speaks about prostate cancer and knows how to bring people together.”
“Maintaining these relationships means you never go to the community empty-handed,” he said. “You go to them with something that could enhance their life.”
They bring educational materials, like flyers and pamphlets, host clinical speakers and bring in specialists to provide the community with useful information that will improve their health.
They raise awareness of preventative care, the importance of knowing your family history and understanding your options after diagnosis through town hall meetings and seminars.
Now, they’re working to create a support group for survivors and those experiencing prostate cancer treatment to encourage other men on the road to recovery. But most important, Kaninjing says, is sharing awareness.
“Some men are reluctant to talk about this,” he said. “We’re slowly trying to overcome this barrier with education and patience. We want to influence the culture to be more open to talking about health matters.”
That’s one of a few significant challenges to prostate cancer survivorship for those in Milledgeville and other rural areas in Middle Georgia. Not having specialists nearby and transportation challenges add to the disparities already present.
They’re already making a difference.
“It’s good to see the openness and receptiveness of the community,” Kaninjing said. “You’re not going to get success overnight, but men who have gone through that road are making it a lot easier for us.”
“We’re trying to be a resource to the community,” he said.
When it comes to prostate cancer, the key is early identification. Kaninjing encourages everyone to educate themselves, gently remind their loved ones to be proactive and ask questions.
“It’s heartwarming to see the community benefit from some of these resources that we provide,” Kaninjing said. “But ultimately our work is not done to eliminate those disparities, it’s one step at a time.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with prostate cancer, or willing to share their survivorship experience, please reach out to Ernie Kaninjing by email at email@example.com.