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New Research Sheds Light on Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia and Race

Several studies in the past year have reported racial variations in the incidence of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Some have suggested that African-American men are more likely to get this condition than white Americans. Others report no differences. A new study looked at different definitions of race and BPH to try to sort it all out.

Researchers from the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both in Boston, examined data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a long-term study of more than 50,000 male healthcare professionals. The men were aged 40 to 70 when the study began in 1986, and have completed questionnaires and physical examinations every other year since.

Of the 31,775 men in this study, 3345 were defined as having benign prostatic hyperplasia, based on symptom reports, surgery for the condition, or diagnosis from a rectal exam.

After accounting for age, alcohol intake, smoking, weight, and other factors that affect BPH, the researchers found that black and Asian men were no more or less likely to develop benign prostatic hyperplasia than white men. They were, however, less likely to have surgery for it. The researchers also measured a number of hormones related to prostate symptoms, and again found no racial differences.

When Caucasians were split into groups, those of southern European origin were slightly more likely to have a variety of prostate problems, including BPH, than other white men, and those of Scandinavian origin were slightly less likely.

In the February issue of the Journal of Urology, the researchers explain that they used three different ways of classifying race and ethnicity to analyze the data, and the results were similar each time. They also used different combinations of benign prostatic hyperplasia symptoms, and again the results were the same.

The men in this study were well-educated professionals, the researchers point out, so they may not represent the general population of American men in health behaviors — diet, lifestyle and other factors that influence BPH. On the other hand, none of the factors measured in the study, including diet, obesity, lifestyle, vasectomy, blood pressure, or heart disease, accounted for the racial differences.

The researchers conclude that the “common contention” that black men are at higher risk, and Asian men at lower risk, than whites was not supported. They recommend further study of differences among different Caucasian groups.

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