Dexter Scott King Died of Prostate Cancer (Why it Disproportionately Impacts Black Men)

Dexter Scott King, the youngest son of Coretta Scott King and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., died after a “valiant battle with prostate cancer,” according to a statement released by The King Center. The 62-year-old died in sleep at his home in Malibu, California. The civil rights leader and humanitarian was among the 1 in six Black men to be diagnosed with the disease each year, according to ZeroCancer.org.

The American Cancer Society says prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate gland start to grow out of control. The prostate is a gland found only in males. It makes some of the fluid that is part of semen. When the cancer has not spread outside of the prostate, it is localized. When it has spread to lymph nodes and surrounding areas, it is categorized as regional, and if it has reached the lungs, bones, or liver, it is a distant stage.

It is the second leading cause of death among American men. However, African American men and Caribbean men of African descent have higher risks. Men in our community are 1.7 more likely to develop prostate cancer and also 2.1 times more likely to die from it. And like many other cancers that impact us, there is a higher chance that they might be diagnosed with an advanced stage of the disease.

Dexter King received his diagnosis at a younger age than most men. 60% of men are diagnosed at 65 or older. Even when Black men are diagnosed early, however, they may not receive treatment, a recent study reported. Researchers analyzed more than 300,000 patients with localized prostate cancer and found that Black men were 27% less likely to receive treatment (radical prostatectomy, external beam radiation therapy, brachytherapy, or cryotherapy) than white patients.

It is imperative that we encourage the men in our lives to get screened for prostate cancer annually. The Prostate-Specific Antigen, or PSA, is a protein produced by normal and malignant prostate gland cells. The PSA test measures the level of PSA in the blood, and the level will be elevated in men with prostate cancer.

While the screening age is 50, Black men should begin getting screened at 45, especially if they have a father or brother who was diagnosed with the disease before age 65. If he has had more than one first-degree relative diagnosed, then screening should begin at 40.

Possible symptoms of prostate cancer include:

  • Blood in the urine or semen.
  • Back pain, pelvis pain, or hip pain.
  • Difficulty getting or keeping an erection.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

For more information on prostate cancer risks, diagnosis, and treatment, check out the following:

Prostate Cancer in the Black Community

50 Questions to Ask Your Doctor If You Have a Family Has History of Prostate Cancer

As we mourn the loss of Dexter Scott King, let’s also take this as an opportunity to encourage Black men to take their health seriously.