As numbers of men diagnosed in one year passed all other types of cancer in the UK for the first time, we must secure the future of research now at risk from the Covid-19 crisis.
New data shows that for the first time in history, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK. Now we must work to protect the research gains that are at risk from the Covid-19 crisis if we want to build a future where this disease doesn't limit lives.
Prostate cancer is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK. Huge news that comes 10 years earlier than previously predicted.
Latest figures for cancer diagnoses in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, when combined, bring the total number of prostate cancer diagnoses in the UK to 57,192, exceeding those of breast, lung and bowel cancers.
Back in January we announced that prostate cancer diagnoses exceeded all other cancers in England in 2018. There was a huge surge in doctor’s referrals for suspected prostate cancer that year.
Ageing population + Turnbull/Fry effect + your fundraising and campaigning = more diagnoses
The surge is likely a direct result of a dramatic increase in awareness of prostate cancer, powered by the efforts of people like you.
Thousands more men have likely been informed about the disease and felt empowered to speak to their GP because of our awareness campaign in 2018 that showed prostate cancer had overtaken breast cancer to become the third biggest cancer killer. Awareness levels across the nation were also boosted by people like Bill Turnbull and Stephen Fry sharing their stories in the same year.
This has combined with an ageing population. Men are living longer, prostate cancer mainly affects men over 50, and your risk increases with age. Prostate cancer diagnoses have more than doubled over the last 20 years alone. There are now around 400,000 men in the UK living with or after the disease.
Speaking about the news, journalist, presenter and Prostate Cancer UK ambassador Bill Turnbull said: “It’s really very humbling to think that by sharing my prostate cancer experience, I may have helped more men come forward to have important conversations with their GP and ultimately get diagnosed sooner.
It’s humbling to think that by sharing my prostate cancer experience, I helped men come forward to have important conversations with their GP.
“Sadly, Covid-19 has interrupted so much crucial research, which is why I’m supporting Prostate Cancer UK’s fundraising efforts. It’s a difficult time for many of us, but anything you can do will go a long way to making sure we don’t lose momentum in the fight against prostate cancer.”
Thousands of lives saved but tests still not good enough
The new figures show that a higher percentage of men’s cancers were caught at the locally advanced stage (stage III), when the cancer has started to break out of the prostate, or has spread to the area just outside the prostate, but not to distant organs. Prostate cancer caught at this stage is far more treatable than advanced prostate cancer. This shows that increased referrals have the potential to save many more lives.
We've also seen a similar increase in the proportion of men diagnosed with low-risk localised prostate cancer (stage 1) which may never cause any harm. There's a chance men could experience life-changing side-effects if they have treatments to address these prostate cancers unnecessarily, so it's important men diagnosed at this stage receive support to have their cancer safely monitored.
Huge progress in scientific research into new tests and treatments means a man diagnosed in 2020 has a much-improved chance of survival compared to 20 years ago. But there’s still no screening programme for prostate cancer, because current tests such as the PSA blood test are not reliable enough at accurately spotting the disease. Better tests and scans could help bring us closer to a screening programme, to ensure all men’s prostate cancers are identified early, when they are still possible to cure.
Lauren Clark lost her husband, the England cricketing legend Bob Willis, to prostate cancer in December 2019. Joining our call for more investment in research to develop better tests for prostate cancer, she said:
“I think the PSA blood test can be a useful indicator for a lot of men, but it wasn’t accurate enough for Bob. We clearly need a better test to determine the severity of prostate cancer, so that men and families can understand sooner how aggressive or otherwise their disease is.
I want to get this research back on track and find treatments and tests that will help men like him in the future.
“I want Bob to have a legacy, and that’s why I want to get this research back on track and find treatments and tests that will help men like him in the future.”
We need research now more than ever
Angela Culhane, Chief Executive at Prostate Cancer UK said: “While it’s good news that more men have been having conversations with their GPs and being diagnosed earlier, it only serves to reinforce the need not only for better treatments which can cure the disease, but for better tests that can differentiate between aggressive prostate cancer that needs urgent treatment and those which are unlikely to ever cause any harm.
“We need research now more than ever, which is why it really is devastating that so much of it has been brought to a standstill by the Covid-19 crisis. Accelerating research to recover from this major setback will cost millions, but at the same time we’re predicting an unprecedented drop in our fundraising due to the impact of the pandemic.
Recovery from this major setback will cost millions. At the same time we’re predicting an unprecedented drop in our fundraising due to the impact of the pandemic.
Although diagnoses have been rising for many years, the Covid-19 crisis could cause many cancers to be missed, as the pandemic continues to reduce the number of referrals for suspected prostate cancer.
Culhane continued: “We also know that the Covid-19 pandemic will have knock-on effects on diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer for some time to come.
“But as services begin to return to normal, it’s important that anyone with concerns about their prostate cancer risk speaks to their GP or contact our Specialist Nurses – particularly if they have any symptoms. Men who are most at risk are those aged 50 and over, black men and men with a family history of the disease.”
We’re calling on the government to uphold previous funding commitments to prostate cancer research after this huge surge in diagnoses.
And now, more than ever, we need you. The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t just disrupted healthcare – it’s disrupting our research and every aspect of our work. But with your continued support we can stand for the increasing numbers of men with prostate cancer, through this crisis and beyond. Donate today.