On Monday evening, news broke that there were 49,029 diagnoses of prostate cancer in 2018, meaning prostate cancer overtakes breast cancer as the most common cancer in England. Here's why it's not all bad news, and what we do next.

28 Jan 2020

On Monday evening, news broke that for the first time ever, prostate cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in England. This trend is likely to be reflected across the UK, and comes much sooner than the prediction of becoming the most common cancer by 2030.

There were 49,029 men diagnosed with prostate cancer in England in 2018 – the highest ever recorded - with 7,828 more men diagnosed than in 2017 (a 19% increase). 

Why have numbers increased?

The dramatic increase in diagnoses shown in the Public Health England data is likely due to more men having a PSA test, after we released data in early 2018 showing that prostate cancer had become the third-biggest cancer killer (passing breast cancer deaths for the first time), closely followed by Bill Turnbull and Stephen Fry bravely talking about their prostate cancer journeys, increasing awareness of the disease and creating what’s now called the Turnbull-Fry effect. It’s also due to the fact that men are living longer, when their risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer is increased. 

We don’t know whether diagnosis rates will remain at this record high, and these figures only refer to men in England, but they’re indicative of UK-wide trends (full UK-wide data will be released in spring.) We also don’t know how many of these cancers may never have been detected and never caused men any harm. We do know that for some men, the earlier diagnosis made possible by this increased awareness could have saved their lives. 

The prospects for men with prostate cancer are already improving, with men diagnosed today two-and-a-half times more likely to live for 10 years or more than if they were diagnosed in 1990. But we urgently need a test that can differentiate between fast-growing cancers and those which may never cause any harm, so that we are able to save lives from prostate cancer and prevent some men from experiencing potentially unnecessary side-effects.

Heather Blake, Director of Support and Influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “The dramatic increase in diagnoses between 2017 and 2018 is likely a reflection of the surge in referrals sparked by the announcement that prostate cancer had become the third biggest cancer killer and high-profile individuals, such as Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull sharing their experience of the disease.

“It is a good thing that awareness of this killer disease is increasing, and more men are taking control by discussing it with their GP.”

It is a good thing that awareness of this killer disease is increasing, and more men are taking control by discussing it with their GP.

- Heather Blake, Director Of Support and Influencing

 

What’s the TurnBull-Fry effect?

Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull went public with their diagnoses in early 2018, raising a lot of awareness about prostate cancer. This was likely a major factor in the recent increase in the number of men being diagnosed with prostate cancer in England.

 

What’s next? How we’re making sure men get the best outcomes

More men than ever seem to know about their risk and feel empowered to speak to their doctor. But there’s still so much work to do.

Thousands more men are living with prostate cancer, and this will only increase as our population ages. It’s urgent we get the funds and support we need to unite the best minds in science and the most passionate people to radically improve diagnosis, treatment and support. 

Our MANifesto, launched this month, outlines our priorities for men:

Better diagnosis

Detecting prostate cancer earlier is crucial to saving lives. We're working with experts to identify the best route to earlier diagnosis. The aim of this work is to confirm whether recent improvements in the approach to diagnosis (such as pre-biopsy mpMRI scanning) could mean we have the basis of a routine national screening programme. If not, this work will help us pinpoint what research is needed to make screening a reality.

The PSA test alone isn’t accurate enough to be used as a national screening programme, which is why it’s important that men speak with their GP and weigh up the pros and cons of having a PSA test, to decide whether it’s right for them. More information about the advantages and disadvantages of the PSA test is available here.

Better treatments

We're improving the effectiveness of treatments for localised prostate cancer so that fewer men see their disease return. This will include innovative surgical and radiotherapy trials, and trials into other new treatment approaches for localised disease. We'll also continue to fund research into more effective treatments for advanced disease.

Better understanding of prostate cancer

We're using the power of big data (including artificial intelligence and machine learning), and working with partners to analyse and combine data from tens of thousands of men who've been diagnosed and treated for different types and stages of prostate cancer. The aim is to find patterns in when the cancers started, how they developed and how aggressive they are. In the future this could help doctors predict how particular prostate cancers are likely to develop so we can choose the most appropriate treatment for each man.

Better support

We’re future-proofing our support and information services to ensure we can keep up with the demand of the increasing numbers of people who will need them.

What’s my risk?

Most men with early prostate cancer don’t have any signs or symptoms. But there are some things that may mean you're more likely to get prostate cancer. You might hear these described as prostate cancer risk factors. Even if you don't have symptoms, speak to your GP about prostate cancer if:

  • you are aged 50 or over
  • your father or brother has had prostate cancer
  • you are black.

Find out more about prostate cancer risk

Join our movement for men now. Let’s build the future men deserve.

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