Kay Patterson, a former state senator from Columbia, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. Patterson will share his rare story — only 1 percent of men are diagnosed with breast cancer — with other men at the first African American Men's Health Forum slated Saturday in Columbia.

"Men are the last to be cognizant of these health issues," Patterson said.

The American Cancer Society partnered with local leaders and community organizations to introduce the event. A similar forum began in Virginia four years ago with 75 attendants, forum co-chair Gary Bell said. Now, more than 750 men from across the state attend.

"In the African-American community, a lot of medical myths get passed down from generation to generation," Bell said. One of those misconceptions is that some diseases only affect others, such as breast cancer.

Fellow chairman Wendell Price, said the goal of the forum is to break some of those mind sets. "Men, typically, we don't do a lot of preventive measures."

Another aim is to empower black men to get the most from the health care system by teaching them how to describe their symptoms to doctors and to know their family histories.

The statewide outreach effort will cover a wide range of health topics, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular health.