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Knicks’ Jamaica visits aim to encourage screenings

Cal Ramsey was on hand at the hospital's cancer center Friday to sign autographs and pose for pictures. He will be followed by Willis Reed Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Dean Mimenger the following Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. During the basketball players' appearances, male visitors will also be able to get a free screening for prostate cancer.

"I think it's very important to spread the word," Ramsey said Friday at the center after he spoke with a fan. Ramsey, now the Knicks director of community relations, said he gets an exam once a year. "If you detect the problem early on, you can get it taken care of before it becomes a bigger problem," he said.

Hospital staff and administrators said prostate cancer was a particular problem in their area since black men are statistically more likely than white men to get the disease. To compound the problem, they said, many men in the area do not come in for exams, and that when those with the disease finally do come to the hospital, they are often in the late stages of their illness.

"There is a cultural barrier, and we're trying to break down that barrier," said Lata Vasconcellos, a spokeswoman for the hospital. "In this particular community, the concern is to get the men on a regimen."

One of the men who came to see Ramsey, Winston Dandy of Richmond Hill, said he went in for a prostate exam once a year. But he knows many men who do not.

"I know a lot of guys who get turned off from doctors," Dandy, 66, said. "It's a woman thing, it's not macho. Unfortunately, he does it to his detriment," he said, referring to men with such an attitude who do not get screened.

The center, which opened in July 2002, just began handling prostate cancer two weeks ago. While the staff acknowledge that a prostate screening can be invasive - the procedure involves both a blood test and a rectal exam - they stress the importance of getting tested so the disease can be caught early.

The staff recommends that black men come in for their first exam at age 40, 10 years earlier than they recommend for other men. To raise awareness in the community, the center has bought radio advertisements, handed out fliers and asked their staff to spread the word, among other strategies.

"We've found the most effective thing in this community is to go into the churches," Vasconcellos said. The center also used its connections to bring in Ramsey and the other Knicks.

"Cal Ramsey helps us because they see someone who is their peer," Vasconcellos said, referring to middle-aged men in the community.

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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