Prostate cancer myths and misconceptions: how to spot reliable information with Specialist Nurse Emma
'Does cycling put me at greater risk of prostate cancer?' Common questions men ask about what they've read and tips to spot reliable information.
Everyone has been thinking about their health a lot in the past year. Every day there’s more news and information to take in. It can be hard to keep up with what’s accurate and what’s relevant.
As one of the Specialist Nurses at Prostate Cancer UK, I speak to many undiagnosed men who have a raised PSA level. Reading things on the internet while waiting for hospital appointments leaves many men assuming they definitely have prostate cancer. When they speak to us, some say they haven’t slept for several nights. When we explain the context of a raised PSA level – how it’s not specific for prostate cancer but a trigger for more specific investigations – it can hugely reduce anxiety.
The strain on the health service caused by the pandemic has meant that many men have faced delays in getting a diagnosis. With long gaps between each stage in the process, it’s understandable that men look for more information while waiting to next speak to a doctor. But this can cause unnecessary alarm if what they find online isn’t relevant to them.
It’s understandable that men look for more information while waiting to next speak to a doctor. But this can cause unnecessary alarm if what they find online isn’t relevant to them.
Behind the headlines: What’s the evidence?
I often hear from men who've read about new research in the newspaper and are hopeful about what it means for treatment and testing now. However, this research is often experimental and is a long way from going into practice in the clinic. This isn’t always made clear, but if the article mentions that the study was done in the lab or in only a few dozen people, then it’s a good sign that it’s still in its early stages. Final stage clinical trials often need hundreds or thousands of people and can take years before new treatments or tests are approved for public use.
One common theme we hear about is new products that are being advertised. Last year, we responded to a supplements advert that suggests plant chemicals called polyphenols can treat prostate cancer. We were very grateful for the men who brought it to our attention. In that case, there isn’t currently enough evidence that these supplements can help. We know that eating a healthy diet is important for lowering the risk of cancer. However, no superfood or supplement can replace that.
Adverts can be more concerning if they promote diagnostic tests or treatments without solid evidence backing them up. I worry that there might be men out there who believe they aren’t at risk of prostate cancer based on unreliable information or tests. Many men that I speak to expect there to be symptoms of prostate cancer and are surprised that it’s often not the case in the early stages. It’s really important that men are aware of their risk and speak to their GP if they have any concerns.
I worry men out there believe they aren’t at risk of prostate cancer based on unreliable information or tests. Many men are surprised prostate cancer often has no symptoms.
Occasionally we hear from men who have spent large sums of money going abroad for treatment based on what they’ve read online. However, the evidence will sometimes demonstrate no benefit over treatment available from the NHS. We can be reassured that standard treatments available in the NHS have been rigorously tested to show their effectiveness.
Should I be cycling?
Men sometimes ask our Specialist Nurses if cycling can cause prostate cancer. Large studies haven't found any strong evidence of a link between cycling and prostate cancer risk, but more research is needed. What we do know is that physical activity is important for your general health and can help you stay a healthy weight, which may lower your risk of being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.
Three questions to ask when you see something new
Even as we look forward to a day without the pandemic, the flood of information isn’t going anywhere. We can all do our bit by thinking carefully about which sources we read and pass on to others. Here are three things that I like to consider when reading new information about prostate cancer:
- Is this a reliable source? Information from the NHS and major cancer charities is regularly checked and updated based on the latest clinical evidence.
- Is this area still being studied? New research findings, tests or treatments can often take many years of testing and validating before making it into clinical practice.
- Is this relevant? Every person has a unique set of circumstances and even correct information may not be relevant to an individual’s situation.
If you have any questions about prostate cancer, you can contact our Specialist Nurse team by phone on 0800 074 8383, email or live chat.