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Real Men, Real Issues: What African American Men Need to Know

The lives people live can affect their health and lifespan. African American men are no exception. For these men, sickness and death are most often due to the “deadly quartet”:



In the United States, African American men between the ages of 24 to 40 are much more likely to die from homicides than any other ethnic group.1 Death rates for blacks are almost 3 times higher than whites.1 James Gilligan, M.D. has observed a link between this increased death rate and the social & economic conditions of society, such as poverty, unemployment and education.1


HIV/AIDS: “The Virus”


AIDS stands for acquired immunodefiency syndrome but you may know it by the term “the virus.” Currently, about 1/3 of all Americans who have AIDS are African American. There are several ways the virus is passed from one person to another: sharing needles in IV drug use, blood transfusion (rare) and sexual contact, including oral, vaginal and anal sex. AIDS transmitted through male-to-male sexual contact is considered the silent epidemic among black men given that “homosexuality in the African American community is never talked about.”


Smoking is a major cause of preventable disease in African American men including heart disease, cancer and stroke (Video). Tobacco related cancers account for almost half of new cancer cases in black men and about 1/3 of cancer deaths. In fact, the cancer death rate among black men has a higher rate of increase than any other ethnic group in this country. By eliminating tobacco use, most of these deaths could be prevented.2


Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among black men.3 Prostate cancer occurs more often in black men than any other ethnic group in the world and, once discovered, black men die more frequently from the disease.3 When this cancer is diagnosed early, it may be cured. It is not known why this cancer is so common and more deadly in African American men. There may be links to environmental factors, such as diet and limited access to medical care, preventing early detection and treatment.

What can I do to improve my health?

Sickness and death from the “deadly quartet” can be prevented or be significantly reduced by early detection. Here are some practical tips to help you live healthier.


Avoid Violence

  1. Be in situations that are “violence free”
  2. Avoid circumstances likely to be violent
  3. Learn healthy ways to express feelings like anger
  4. Understand that guns and poverty equal death
  5. Recognize actions or words that “trigger” anger
  6. Be an active listener to try and understand what the other person is saying
  7. Brainstorm all ideas that might help resolve an argument, not just fighting
  8. Teach your children how to handle conflict, so they can manage it better as adults
  9. Seek professional help if you can’t work it out.


Prevent HIV/AIDS

  1. Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. Do not have sexual intercourse with people known to have AIDS, multiple partners or people who use IV drugs
  2. Know your partner!
  3. Avoid drinking alcohol and using drugs that may impair your judgment and the ability to make appropriate choices about sex
  4. If you do have sex, ALWAYS use a latex condom
  5. Get the HIV blood test if you suspect you could have the disease
  6. Do not use IV drugs. If IV drugs are used, do not share needles or syringes.


Quitting Smoking

  1. Set a quit date and choose a quit plan
  2. Spend time with friends who don’t smoke
  3. Avoid people and places where you are tempted to smoke
  4. Begin regular exercise you enjoy
  5. Drink lots of water and juices. Reduce or avoid alcohol
  6. Talk with your doctor about classes or nicotine replacement therapy (patch, gum or nasal spray) to help you stop smoking
  7. Talk to your doctor about hypnosis or acupuncture to help you stop smoking
  8. Tell friends and family of your plans to quit
  9. Don’t get discouraged. It may take several tries before you are successful.
  10. Reward yourself for each successful milestone: day, week, month. Buy yourself something with the money you saved by not buying cigarettes, or work on a hobby, or call a friend long distance.


Prevent/detect Prostate cancer

  1. See your doctor regularly
  2. Ask about two screening tests: PSA blood test & digital rectal exam
  3. Eat a healthful diet that is low in fat and includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.


Where can I go to learn more?

  1. American Cancer Society
  2. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Health
  3. HIV/AIDS Treatment Information Service
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National STD and AIDS Hotlines 1-800-342-2437


1Gilligan, James. Violence: reflections on a national epidemic. Random House, 1996.
2American Cancer Society. Cancer facts and figures 1993, p.10-21.
3US Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2000. National health promotion and disease prevention objectives. Public Health Service, 1991, p. 418.

For more information:

Go to the African American Health health topic.