Men are finally getting the message about prostate cancer
Prostate cancer deaths will continue to rise until an NHS screening programme is introduced, experts warned on Tuesday.
Doctors and charities welcomed figures which suggest men are finally getting over the embarrassment of prostate issues and getting themselves checked.
Diagnoses shot up by a fifth in 2018 – from 41,201 to 49,029 – overtaking breast cancer and making prostate the most common cancer in England for the first time.
But cancer specialists last night said that while this growing awareness is a significant cause for celebration, deaths will continue to rise until the NHS has a programme which means men are routinely checked.
Professor Hashim Ahmed, of Imperial College London, said: ‘Unless we have a coordinated effort and a serious discussion about screening we are just going to limp along, relying on people raising awareness.’
Earlier diagnosis means men have a much better survival chance, yet for years men have been far too slow to report symptoms – too embarrassed and too scared to go to their GP. In 2018, that began to change and men started talking about the disease as never before.
Experts attribute this to celebrities such as Bill Turnbull and Stephen Fry who spoke about their own prostate cancer. Health officials also praised the Daily Mail, which in 2018 relaunched its prostate awareness campaign.
NHS statistics on Tuesday night showed referrals shot up as a result. Between 2017 and 2019 monthly referrals for suspected urological cancers – mostly prostate – soared 13 per cent from 17,223 to 19,470. And the number of men treated rose 5 per cent (3,081 to 3,217).
Experts stressed that greater awareness still relies on men taking the initiative and going to their GP if they have symptoms. A better system would be routine screening – in which every man of a certain age is invited for a test, whether they have symptoms or not. This currently exists for breast cancer but prostate tests are not yet good enough. Advances in MRI scanning show promise but are still being tested. Instead men are left to request a PSA blood test from their GP – which they are eligible for from 50.
This is far from accurate, and even if it raises red flags a biopsy follows, which itself can be inaccurate problems. Professor Ahmed said: ‘We should be formalising a really robust [testing] strategy to make sure aggressive prostate cancer is picked up.’
Professor Stephen Powis, of the NHS, said: ‘The NHS Long Term Plan is accelerating action to detect and treat more cancers at an earlier stage when the chance of survival is highest.’Daily Mail