Ahead of the Budget announcement on 29 October, our chief executive Angela Culhane explains why now is the time to really crack earlier diagnosis of the most common cancer in men and the key investments needed to make sure it happens.
A Budget announcement in October is unusual. But with the Brexit deadline looming, we live in unusual and unpredictable times.
What we can predict, though, is the worrying future for prostate cancer and what the Government needs to do to help us save more lives from this disease.
We know that by 2030: prostate cancer will be the most common cancer in the UK; and the population of men living with and after a diagnosis of prostate cancer is set to nearly double to 620,000.
It’s already the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, and the number of men dying will continue to rise if we don’t give them a better chance of an earlier, more accurate diagnosis and make sure there is better treatment and support after they’re diagnosed.
The NHS is working hard to improve things, but it will need to focus its funding to have any hope of delivering the Government’s ambitions for earlier diagnosis of all cancers. And it won’t be able to achieve these aims without cracking the problem of prostate cancer.
So while we welcome the Government’s recent announcements of an extra £20 billion for NHS England and £75 million for prostate cancer research, we’ve written to the Treasury ahead of this month’s Budget with five key demands to make sure that investment will really help save men’s lives.
Getting to a prostate cancer screening programme must be an aim of the forthcoming 10-year NHS England cancer strategy, which will be supported by the Budget. Without one, it’s difficult to see how earlier diagnosis could be achieved because there are often no symptoms for many years and men can’t check themselves for lumps.
We also want the Budget to give more detail about the £75 million for prostate cancer research promised by the Prime Minister in April. We believe most of it should be used to support research into tests that could help us get to screening.
In the meantime, we want advanced, multiparametric MRI scans (known as mpMRI) before a prostate biopsy to continue being rolled out across hospitals in the UK. This diagnostic technique can double the number of clinically significant cancers detected compared to a biopsy alone, and it can avoid some men having to have an invasive biopsy altogether.
But demand for mpMRI scans across the NHS is growing faster than capacity. And we estimate an extra 18 dedicated prostate scanners – at a cost of around £1.05 million each – are needed to meet the demand for pre-biopsy mpMRI over the next ten years. The £10 millon funding injection to support clinical capacity announced today by the Chief Executive of the NHS is a good start towards this.
We’ll also need around 50 additional radiologists by 2028 to deliver and interpret these prostate scans. So it’s critical the Budget offers extra funding for the 10,000 diagnostic radiologists the Royal College of Radiologists says the NHS urgently needs.
We know that men with prostate cancer who have access to a Cancer Nurse Specialist (CNS) not only experience a better quality of life, but a longer one too. But there are only six CNSs specialising in urology for every thousand people diagnosed with cancer in the UK, and many men with prostate cancer miss out on this critical support while struggling with the often life-changing side effects of their treatment.
The Government needs to invest in the CNS workforce to meet the rising numbers of men living with prostate cancer. And we calculate that by 2028, approximately 500 extra CNSs will be needed to provide vital one-to-one support for these men, costing around £45 million each year in salaries and overheads.
As personalised medicine plays an increasingly significant role in cancer treatment – with more and more drugs being tailored to the genetic makeup of the individual’s disease – the NHS’s appraisal and pricing of these new treatments needs to be more flexible.
Creating a swifter approval process and making sure staff are trained to support and deliver any new treatments for prostate cancer, will mean these hard-won prizes by researchers aren’t left sitting just out of patients’ reach.
We’re determined to make prostate cancer a disease future generations won’t have to fear. But we can’t do this alone. It’s time for the Government to get serious about prostate cancer and work with us to finally tame it.
Decisions made by local hospital trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups might seem a long way from central government. But it’s the Government that holds the purse strings and we want this Budget to recognise the urgent need to invest in prostate cancer.
By committing to these five demands, working together and putting those facing this disease at the heart of our efforts, we’ll be able to save more lives, more quickly, and build a better future for men in the UK.