A couple of weeks ago, I told you how excited I was about the upcoming Prostate Cancer UK Research Forum. Well, it finally arrived (a shame our luggage didn’t – but that’s another story), so now we’re here in Baltimore, home of the internationally renowned Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, with some of the world’s leading prostate cancer experts.
And even though we’re only one day in, my head is already buzzing. The talks have been incredibly fast-paced, running from 8am to 6.30pm, and covering everything from the pros and cons of screening to the development of new biomarkers. I'm not going to recap all of the latest developments and bright ideas that came out of these discussions – we'd be here all day and some of it’s still confidential. But if I was to pick one messages from today, and one that was really hammered home by both our Chief Executive Owen Sharp and our Director of Research Dr Iain Frame when they opened the conference, is that it's conversation and debate that are central to this meeting. It isn't just about reporting on individual research projects - it's about fitting that work into the bigger picture. This is what Owen had to say: ‘There are lots of different types of work going on across the globe regarding prostate cancer, with loads of exciting strands that aren’t necessarily all woven together yet. I’m really looking forward to hearing conversations at the Forum about combining these strands into one tight core of collaborative and focussed work.’ Well, we wanted conversations, and conversations we certainly got. And we didn't really need to emphasise that we wanted the researchers to talk, rather that they'd actually need to stop talking at some point, to move on to the next topic. One of the topics that generated the most debate was the question of why we don't yet have any answers about lifestyle risk factors for prostate cancer. The researchers spent a long time talking about the best way to address these types of questions, what's currently happening and what they could try in the future. We spoke to Professor Bill Nelson, Professor of Oncology and Director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He explained why investigating dietary causes in particular is so tricky: 'Information about changes to cancer – both good and bad – that relate to diet are based on the answers people give to questionnaires asking them about their daily intake of many different foods. People generally eat around a pound and a half of food a day. Food is a very complex chemical mixture even before you do anything radical like cooking or digesting it - which changes the chemical make-up again. Because of this, identifying a single source of change in such a complex mix is very, very difficult, and we just don't have all the tools we need to do that yet. My advice? Pursue a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and be responsible in terms of the amount of saturated fats you consume.' The good news is that the conversations happening right now at this meeting are giving the researchers working on these types of problems some new ideas about how we might start to unravel this, and other complicated questions, in prostate cancer research. The conversations going on here will continue well into the evening and the best bit is that every single one will be about how to make things better for men in the near future. And you can join in too. Follow the conversations on twitter at #ProstateUKResearch.