Four out of five men at higher than average risk of prostate cancer aren’t aware of their risk and are therefore not having the vital conversations with GPs that could save their lives. This is according to some new research we recently commissioned from research agency, YouGov1
This could mean that thousands of men may miss out on being diagnosed at an early stage, when treatment for the disease is most effective.
Prostate cancer kills one man every hour. The majority of early cases are symptomless and a lack of accurate tests for life-threatening forms of the disease means there is no national screening programme.
As a result, awareness of risk and speaking to a doctor about it is a man’s main defence against the disease.
But alarmingly, our survey showed that more than four in five men (83%) at increased risk of prostate cancer do not grasp that their chance of developing the disease is higher than average. It also showed that three quarters (75%) of men at greater risk admit that, even if they were aware but didn’t have any symptoms, they wouldn’t go and speak to their GP about it.
Men at increased risk of prostate cancer include men with a family history of the disease (father or brother), men over the age of 50 and Black men.
Commenting on the research results, Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Prostate Cancer UK, said:
“Black men, men who are over the age of 50 and those with a family history of the disease, must wise up to the cruel fact that they face a higher than average risk of prostate cancer than other men.
“They need to know this so that they can instigate potentially life-saving conversations with their GPs about the next steps. This isn’t happening and as a result men are walking around like ticking time bombs, completely oblivious to the danger they face.”
Although the results from our survey are worrying, the problem doesn’t just lie with a lack of awareness of risk.
Existing diagnostic tests aren’t as good as they could be, meaning that on one hand, some men receive unnecessary biopsies, while on the other hand, lethal cancers may not be picked up in time for treatment to be as effective as possible.
There is also no way to easily distinguish between deadly and harmless forms of the disease when a man is first diagnosed, meaning that many men face a difficult decision of whether to have invasive treatment, which can have life-changing side effects, or have their cancer monitored but live with the anxiety and risk that their cancer may spread.
We want to transform the way that risk is calculated so that the most vulnerable can be diagnosed early enough to survive, whilst those at low risk are spared invasive testing or sometimes unnecessary treatments.
Our plan is to fund research that we hope will revolutionise how we diagnose and treat prostate cancer.
We’re calling on our growing Men United network to raise funds to develop a new tool, called a risk calculator, for GPs to calculate a man’s overall risk of prostate cancer and to determine what tests he needs to have.
Prostate cancer risk calculators have already been developed in other countries. We want to fund research that will develop those tools further, will work with the UK population and will be acceptable to men, their doctors and the NHS.
The tool will combine information about known prostate cancer risk factors - like family history, age, ethnicity and genetics - with results from a PSA test. This will mean that doctors can give a man a clearer idea about his risk of developing significant (aggressive) prostate cancer. It is hoped it will be ready to roll out across the NHS within the next five years.
i) Survey figures are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2864 adults, of which 1,291 were ‘at risk’ men. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th January and 4th February 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).