It's been 12 months since we launched our ambitious plan to halve prostate cancer deaths in a decade, and we’ve already taken some huge steps towards our goal. Our chief executive, Angela Culhane, reflects on the progress we’ve made and the exciting work still to come.
When we launched our Ten years to tame prostate cancer strategy, we knew it was ambitious. We knew it would be hard work. But we also knew the results would be worth it.
For us, there was one clear place to start: better diagnosis. If aggressive disease can be caught early, it will give those men much better survival odds.
We’ve spent £300k and committed £2 million more to crack the problems that surround diagnosis, assembling an international taskforce of leading scientists to develop a new risk assessment tool that can be used to establish upfront a man’s risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. Work is well under way to find the best combination of tests and health data to provide a more accurate early indicator than just using PSA alone, and the progress so far is encouraging.
We're keeping a close eye on other new approaches to diagnosing prostate cancer, too. For example, we’re funding research to explore the use of blood and urine tests to detect chemicals and DNA from the cancer as an alternative to taking samples by biopsy.
And we’re building on the exciting results of the PROMIS trial, which proved that giving a man a multi-parametric MRI (mpMRI) scan before biopsy can radically improve the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnosis. It could also spare many thousands of men each year from having to have unnecessary biopsies. We’re working hard to make sure this game-changing technique is made available to all men who could benefit from it.
While all that comes to fruition, we’ve also worked with hundreds of health professionals to produce guidance which helps primary health care professionals use the current PSA test more effectively for men who don’t have prostate cancer symptoms.
Better treatments for men with prostate cancer is another key area of our strategy, and I’m pleased to say we’ve made progress here too. A year ago, we made a commitment to fund the development of new ‘personalised’ treatments, and we're currently reviewing applications from some of the country’s top scientists for a major research investment in this area.
We challenged the research community to develop new approaches to the well-documented problems that come with treating prostate cancer – and boy did they deliver! Through our Research Innovation Awards, we have invested £2.3 million in the past year across the eight best research projects out of the 64 applications we received. We’re looking forward to seeing the results start to emerge from that research, and will be making further awards this year.
We also pledged to ensure existing medicines are used in the best way – to give the most benefit to the most men – and we’ve delivered with our successful campaign for better access to drugs across the UK. We’ve seen results in Wales, and most recently Northern Ireland, as the respective health authorities in both nations agreed to give men a chemotherapy drug called docetaxel together with hormone therapy – a technique that has given men with advanced prostate cancer an additional 15 months of life on average. These decisions mean this treatment is now available to all eligible men in the UK.
Meanwhile, the findings of the ProtecT trial provide the first evidence to compare active surveillance to radical treatment options. This showed that ten-year survival rates were the same for all options studied, so should help men make a more informed choice about which option is right for them. We will now be working to ensure active surveillance is carried out to best practice standards across the UK.
While we’ve made progress on diagnosis and treatment, we also want all men to receive the best support available – another key strand of our strategy and another area in which we’ve made significant progress.
I’m so proud that over the last 12 months our nurses have had over 12,500 conversations with people concerned about prostate cancer, we’ve supplied 500,000 pieces of information and had 2.3 million visitors to our website. And I know that everyone in the team at Prostate Cancer UK is ready and motivated to help many thousands more men in the year ahead.
In November, we called for better support and treatment of erectile dysfunction – a debilitating and distressing condition that affects 76 per cent of men treated for prostate cancer. We're lobbying and educating local commissioners, health providers and decision makersto increase their services. We’re also lobbying health authorities in each of the four home nations to get prescribed guidance for erectile dysfunction updated, and hundreds of our supporters have joined our fight for better treatment.
With the help of some famous faces, we also launched our Stronger Knowing More campaign to improve prostate cancer awareness among black men about their increased risk (double that faced by white men). We’re delighted with the response to the campaign and are looking forward to the next phase later this year.
There are many more things I could talk about as the world of prostate cancer has been moving so fast over the past year. But hopefully you’ve been following developments through Insights and the news section of our website.
Thank you to all of you who have supported us. It’s thanks to your generosity that we’ve come this far. We still have a long way to go, but with your support and the progress we’ve already made, there are grounds for optimism.
Together we can tame prostate cancer once and for all.