Defense Secretary Austin’s Prostate Cancer Treatment Highlights Racial Disparities in Healthcare


FILE - Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin makes a joint statement with Israel Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, after their meeting about Israel's military operation in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Dec. 18, 2023. The White House chief of staff on Tuesday ordered Cabinet members or secretaries to notify his office if they ever can't perform their duties, as the Biden administration, reeling from learning of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's surprise illness last week, mounts a policy review. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo, File)
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The Pentagon revealed this week that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently underwent treatment for prostate cancer, sparking increased attention to the disease and its disproportionate impact on Black men. The disclosure sheds light on the broader issue of racial disparities in healthcare, particularly concerning prostate cancer.

Secretary Austin’s medical care is being overseen by Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chesnut at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In a recent statement released by the Pentagon, physicians emphasized the importance of early screening for the detection and treatment of prostate cancer.

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder pauses as he is asked about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“Despite the frequency of prostate cancer, discussions about screening, treatment, and support are often deeply personal and private ones. Early screening is important for detection and treatment of prostate cancer and people should talk to their doctors to see what screening is appropriate for them,” the statement read.

Prostate cancer is a prevalent concern for men, especially its impact on the Black community. According to the non-profit organization Zero Prostate Cancer, Black men face a significantly higher risk of diagnosis compared to other racial groups. Statistics reveal that one in six Black men will develop prostate cancer, in contrast to one in eight for men of other races. Moreover, Black men have a 1.7 times higher likelihood of being diagnosed with the disease and are 2.1 times more likely to die from it than their white counterparts.

Genetics is only one part of the equation; the racial disparities in healthcare contribute significantly to the increased risk and mortality rates among Black men. Systemic issues such as unequal access to healthcare services, socioeconomic factors, and implicit bias within the medical community all play a role in hindering timely detection and effective treatment.

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