24 Jan 2014

Men across the UK should take more initiative when it comes to their own health says Prostate Cancer UK as it releases new research showing that 90% of GPs do not always initiate potentially life-saving discussions about prostate disease with men who don’t have symptoms but are in one of the high risk groups.

The warning comes as the charity launches Men United v Prostate Cancer, what’s hoped to be the biggest male health campaign the country has ever seen. 

“If the system were more geared to men, GPs would be alerting them to their risk, and explaining their options as a matter of course. But it’s not happening and that’s one reason why we’re launching Men United – because information can literally save lives. Men are dying through ignorance and we have to change that, give them answers, and help them to engage in their own health,” said Owen Sharp, Prostate Cancer UK’s chief executive.

Although the risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age, typically from a man’s fifties, the nationwide survey shows that in 2014 only one GP in ten always broaches the issue of prostate health with men of 50 and over who do not display symptoms.   

The survey of 500 GPs was commissioned from Kantar Health by Prostate Cancer UK as part of the Men United v Prostate Cancer campaign.

Prostate cancer kills a man in the UK every hour but it can be treatable if caught early. However, in most cases prostate cancer lacks symptoms and the test for the disease is not reliable enough to warrant introducing the kind of screening programme which would automatically call men in to discuss the issue. This lack of symptoms also means the disease is excluded from key public health initiatives such as Be Clear on Cancer. GPs are the population’s first line of defence and the survey findings fuel concern that men at higher risk are slipping through yet another part of the system.

Because of their raised risk of developing prostate cancer, men over 50 are entitled to a test on the NHS if they have discussed the pros and cons with a doctor or nurse professional.

Owen Sharp said: “Prostate cancer is one of the UK’s deadliest man killers. However, in the absence of symptoms and screening, awareness of their risk and a chat with the GP is probably the best weapon men have against the disease. Yet we know that many men have no inkling of what their level of risk is, and very few have even heard of the test. Today’s research shows that the system is not reaching out to men in the way that Men United will.”

The results of the survey also showed that 90% of GPs themselves believe it is important that high risk men should be more proactively encouraged to speak to their GP about the test. Furthermore, 90% agreed that patient information would help them support men who are concerned about their prostate health.

“Men United is about creating a movement for men’s health, and we work with GPs to help them help men. It is about all working together to get the best outcome for men and push back the neglect which has shrouded this disease for so long.

Men United, launched by comedian Bill Bailey, is an unashamedly masculine campaign which uses the language of sport to engage the nation’s men and prepare them to face up to the difficult decisions which come with the knowledge of it. During the integrated television, print and digital campaign, running until the end of March, men - and women – will be encouraged to go online to search Men United and to get involved by testing their knowledge of the disease.

 Bill Bailey said: “We need men to sign for the team in their thousands. Pubs, clubs, individuals – let’s get everyone on the team. It’s easy – just search Men United online and you’re in! We’re determined to make this as massive for blokes as the breast cancer campaign has been for women," said Bill Bailey, whose own father-in-law is one of the 250,000 men in the UK living with the disease.

Sharp continued, “Prostate cancer is already left behind in a number of areas. In the UK prostate cancer survival rates are below the European average, research into the disease lags a decade behind that for other cancers, and quality of care depends on where you live. Today’s findings underline that the system needs to be changed across the board. The worst thing we can do is not talk about prostate cancer. We need to push it up the public health agenda -  to get men and their clinicians into the same big conversation”.

There are three red flags known to indicate heightened risk of prostate cancer. They are being aged 50 or over; being of Black African or African Caribbean ancestry; and having a close male relative who has been diagnosed with the disease.

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