ALMOST half of men with prostate cancer had to see their GP at least twice before being diagnosed, alarming research has revealed.
As doctors called for urgent action to tackle the crisis, the figures also show that 6 of men went to their doctor at least five times before the cancer was discovered.
To make matters worse, a fifth of men with symptoms wait three months before even making an appointment.
The figures contrast sharply with breast cancer statistics, which show that only 9 of woman need more than one GP visit before being diagnosed.
The research highlights a worrying trend of symptoms being ignored by patients and then overlooked by GPs.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with 47,000 new cases and 12,000 deaths in the UK each year.
These figures are projected to rise further over the next two decades as the population grows older, and earlier this year the number of prostate deaths overtook those from breast cancer for the first time.
Experts say this is partly due to late diagnosis, which means the illness is much harder to treat.
The analysis was carried out by the men’s cancer charity, Orchid, using data from NHS England’s cancer experience survey from 2016. This covers 72,788 patients with all forms of cancer but researchers focused on the 6,707 men with prostate cancer.
They found that 42 & of men had been to their GP at least twice before being referred for tests that led to their diagnosis. This compares to 9 % of breast cancer patients who went to their GP twice or more, and an average of 35 % for all cancer patients.
And a fifth of men waited three or more months before seeking medical advice, compared to 9 % of patients with breast cancer.
Rebecca Porta, chief executive of Orchid, said: ‘We are facing a potential crisis in terms of diagnostics, treatment and patient care. Urgent action needs to be taken now if we are to be in a position to deliver world-class outcomes for prostate cancer patients and their families in the future.’ Heather Blake, of Prostate Cancer UK, said: ‘Too many men continue to be diagnosed with prostate cancer at a late stage when the disease has already spread outside the prostate and curative treatments are not an option.
‘If we’re going to dramatically reduce the number of men who die from prostate cancer every year we need a much greater understanding of which men are more likely to be diagnosed late and why, so that measures can be put in place to ensure these men are diagnosed in time.’
One of the biggest problems is that there is no national screening program for prostate cancer, meaning the disease is usually detected only after men have experienced symptoms, and by then it may be too late to treat.
Symptoms of prostate cancer include needing the toilet more often and pain or difficulty when going to the toilet. Many men are embarrassed about discussing these details with their GPs.
As well, GPs may overlook these symptoms as they can be caused by old age or a change in medication.
A separate survey by Orchid of 1,000 healthy men found that 60 % were not confident in identifying the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. Another 31 % admitted they ‘knew nothing’ about the disease.
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘Cancer survival is now at an all-time high in England, with thousands more surviving than three years before, as a result of better access to screening, funding for effective new treatments and diagnostics and continued action to reduce smoking.
‘NHS England is working closely with leading clinical experts to bring the latest research on prostate cancer into practice.’