In the third part of her blog about our ambitious plan to tame prostate cancer in ten years, Sophie Lutter outlines the reasons behind our prevention strategy.
The religious scholar Erasmus was the first person credited with the words ‘prevention is better than cure’, and he wasn’t wrong. Unfortunately, to borrow from another old idiom, whoever first said ‘easier said than done’ wasn’t wrong either.
That’s not to say that nobody’s trying. There are a number of large-scale clinical trials going on around the world to try to work out whether particular dietary, lifestyle or medical interventions can improve a man’s chances of avoiding prostate cancer.
The trouble is that these studies take a very long time, are extremely expensive to run and are notoriously poor at gathering reliable enough data to draw a conclusion about cause and effect from. This is because they generally rely on participants’ memories of what they’ve had to eat or drink, and how often. And let’s be honest, who here hasn’t ever thought, ‘well if I just eat half a biscuit, it doesn’t really count’, or ‘I had some orange squash, so that must count as a portion of fruit, right?’
So, while we’re actively keeping an eye open for results from these trials, and waiting for them to get to a point where we can think about what needs to happen next to be able to get some solid answers, what can we do instead?
Since 1994, we’ve invested £37m in prostate cancer research - roughly the same amount spent on breast cancer research in the last year alone
Well, since 1994, we’ve invested £37m in prostate cancer research. This is roughly the same amount spent on breast cancer research in the last year alone, although this figure comprises the entire UK contribution, not from a single charity. Nevertheless, we've been able to lay the foundations of a solid prostate cancer research platform in the UK.
But there’s still more to learn. We can build on these strong research foundations to finally get to grips with all the nitty-gritty details of how prostate cancer starts and how it spreads. This is where the real insights about how to stop it are going to come from.
We can also get better at working out – before they even have treatment for the first time – which men are the 30 per cent who are currently most at risk of their cancer coming back after initial radiotherapy or surgery, so we can change the way we treat them from the outset.
We plan to achieve both those things through our main funding schemes.
We know that now is the time to really raise the stakes. Safe bets and incremental raises won’t win us the windfall breakthroughs we’re looking for
Sustained research success over a long period of time relies on steady recruitment and retention of expertise. So we will fund not only PhD studentships and early career Fellowships, but also award funding to develop the top performers in the field into leaders. We will support these experts at the most productive and influential stages of their career to find the answers that will make the most difference to men with prostate cancer.
We’ve also launched a new funding scheme this year; our Research Innovation Awards. We’ve done this because we’ve seen a steady rise in the scale and ambition of funding requests coming to us over the last few years, but we know that now is the time to really raise the stakes. Safe bets and incremental raises won’t win us the windfall breakthroughs we’re looking for.
In fact, we’re the only charity running this sort of funding scheme; we challenged our researchers to match our ambition and determination to succeed and they didn’t hesitate to pick up the gauntlet.
We, and the experts we’ve consulted, think this is the best way to make sure that we’re building on the research foundations we’ve worked so hard to develop over the last 20 years until any of the research that’s going on into prevention around the world shows serious promise, at which point we’ll be ready to step in and take it to the next level.
Dr Ian Le Guillou looks back at some of 2017's highlights from the world of prostate cancer research – all of which we had a hand in bringing about thanks to your generous donations.