New research suggests the adoption of new ways to treat and diagnose prostate cancer in recent years will be reflected in a significant drop in death rate from the disease.

Family and dog at March for Men 2018
22 Apr 2020
In - Research

A new Europe-wide analysis shows a radical drop in death rates from prostate cancer is expected in 2020. The reduction is likely to be a result of 20 years of research culminating in new ways to treat and diagnose prostate cancer, and keep men living longer with the disease.

Research funded by people like you is bringing us closer to the day that prostate cancer is no longer a killer. But this progress is under threat by the coronavirus crisis.

Researchers at the University of Milan estimated death rates for common cancer types across the EU. They also calculated over 400,000 prostate cancer deaths in the EU have been avoided since 1996, with over 40,000 in 2020 alone.

Improvements in the way prostate cancer is treated, like technological advances in surgery and radiotherapy in the last few years are thought to have made the biggest impact on the reduced death rates.

New drugs to treat advanced forms of the disease, like abiraterone and enzalutamide, developed in the last ten years are also likely to have contributed to the improvements. As well as treating men with advanced prostate cancer earlier with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and abiraterone. Together, these changes have helped avoid prostate cancer deaths in significant numbers of elderly prostate cancer patients.

The researchers were less able to understand the impact of techniques to diagnose prostate cancer, such as the frequency of PSA testing, on the reduced death rates. But the introduction of mpMRI across the UK to improve the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnosis will likely have contributed to better and more specific treatment for many.

More research needed as overall death toll still likely to increase

However, prostate cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed cancer in England, with incidence rising as the UK population ages. It means that although the risk of dying from prostate cancer has decreased for individual men, the overall number of deaths from the disease is likely to continue rising. This year, it was revealed prostate cancer deaths hit an all-time high in 2017. 

Director of Research Impact at Prostate Cancer UK, Dr Matthew Hobbs, said: “With incidence of prostate cancer rising in the UK, and the number of men reaching an age that increases their risk, combined with faster progress in other diseases, we need much bigger and quicker reductions in the death rate to stop the number of prostate deaths continuing to rise every year.”

But right now, due to the social distancing measures required to contain the coronavirus pandemic, prostate cancer labs are closed and research is at a standstill. Without urgent funds, there’s a risk much of this ground-breaking work may not re-start.

Urgent action needed as research comes to a standstill across the UK

Dr Hobbs continued, “Right now Covid-19 is having a major impact on research in cancer across the UK, but Prostate Cancer UK's vital role in funding research, getting that research into practice across the UK, and improving awareness, diagnosis and treatment of the disease remains absolutely critical to achieving the larger, faster reductions in death rate that we need to reduce the number of men dying of prostate cancer over the next ten years.”

Covid-19 is having a major impact on research, but Prostate Cancer UK's vital role remains absolutely critical to achieving the larger, faster reductions in death rate that we need to reduce the number of men dying of prostate cancer.

- Dr Matthew Hobbs, Director Of Research Impact


We have 58 ongoing research projects, all of which were awarded funding because of their promise to lead to better treatments and ways to diagnose prostate cancer. But due to measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, our researchers currently have no access to their laboratories or the specialised equipment and facilities they house. It’s meant all these life-saving projects have come to a stop.

This research coming to a halt means years of work, and millions of pounds are at stake. Key experiments and findings are often years in the making, with meticulous planning and preparation work involved in the lead up. A pause to research of just a few months could mean key milestones to collect data are missed, chemical shelf-lives are exceeded, and months of planning and preparation is made redundant.

No one knows when we will emerge from this crisis, but when we do, it’s critical we give our researchers the time and resources they need to resume their work. Your support has never been more important to keep saving lives from prostate cancer.

We’ve made such powerful progress against prostate cancer so far. But we can’t lose momentum. We need to secure the future of prostate cancer research to bring us closer to the day that prostate cancer is no longer a killer.

We're calling on all our supporters to take the 2.6 challenge this weekend to help protect the research gains that are now at risk

The 2.6 Challenge is for everyone - all you need to do is think of an activity based around the numbers 26 or 2.6 and complete it on or from Sunday 26 April. It could be as simple as using your daily exercise to run 2.6 miles, doing 26 minutes of yoga or 26 star jumps. Or do something different and flip 26 pancakes, hop 26m or make 26 balloon animals. The choice is yours! 

Cycling fanatic Cameron Fraser will remember his late grandfather (Papa) as he takes on an epic 2.6 Challenge for us on Sunday. On what would have been London Marathon day the 39-year-old business development manager will virtually cycle 262km in loops of the capital via online cycling platform Zwift.

Cameron’s grandfather Jack Fraser was an accomplished grass track cyclist, once beating the British champion twice in the same day in the Highland Games in the 1940s. Sadly Jack died of prostate cancer in 2000.

Cameron said, "I’ll be thinking about lots of things on Sunday, about Papa, my dad and family and cycling friends I haven’t seen for a while. Hopefully they will join me on the challenge. My ultimate goal is to raise awareness and raise those funds for Prostate Cancer UK."

Get all the info and join us for the 2.6 Challenge.

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