As we look forward to 2021, with the hope of better times, I wanted to take stock of what we have achieved together for men and their families living with prostate cancer and facing all the challenges that the pandemic has thrown up. 

When the pandemic first hit back in March, the government’s initial lockdown measures caused  significant delays in access to treatment for thousands of men diagnosed with prostate cancer, and in some parts of the country, treatment simply stopped. With your help, we’ve been able to act quickly and decisively to provide vital support for men and their families in these difficult times. 

Getting men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer the treatment they deserve

A particularly impactful success over this period has been reversing NHS England’s previous stance on the use of hormone therapies enzalutamide and abiraterone as an alternative to chemotherapy for men with newly diagnosed advanced prostate cancer.

Chemotherapy treatment had been paused for many because it requires several hospital visits and can also affect the immune system, which could put men at risk of the COVID-19 virus. This left men and their families who had recently found out they had advanced cancer, with the further bad news of having no treatment options available to them.

However, we knew there were alternatives that had to be considered. The anti-androgen treatments, enzalutamide and abiraterone, work by blocking the effect of the hormone testosterone on prostate cancer cells and offer the equivalent survival benefit to men without the same risks attached to chemotherapy.

Earlier this year, the National Institute for Care and Health Excellence (NICE), which advises NHS England on treatment and care best practice, had initially rejected the use of abiraterone offered to men newly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer -  which we were already appealing against. 

With the pandemic dramatically altering treatment pathways, NHS England answered our call and are now offering men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer enzalutamide and alternatively abiraterone during the pandemic. Both come in pill form and can be taken from the comfort of their own homes, limiting risks associated with Covid-19. This is a huge win for thousands of men and a key milestone in providing more personalised treatment pathways. 

 

NHS England answered our plea and men are continuing to have treatment that’s just as effective from the comfort of their homes. A huge win, thanks to you.

 

Supporting men and health professionals

Contacts to our Specialist Nurses spiked as diagnostic and treatment pathways were disrupted and access to health teams in clinics was interrupted by the pandemic. Men and their families urgently needed support and information so we stepped up to meet these new needs, developing a suite of health information in double quick time and using digital options like our short online videos, to supplement the telephone service.

We have seen a huge drop in GP referrals for prostate cancer over this period, which could lead to thousands of men being diagnosed too late for curative treatment. To combat this, we recently launched a national risk-checker campaign to encourage men to better understand their risk and consult with their GP. 

Alongside this, we’ve been using our expertise, working closely with our partners and health boards to get men the diagnosis, treatment and support they need. Here’s a few of the highlights from our support and influencing work that’s had a nationwide impact: 

  • Worked closely with Cancer Alliances and Health Boards across the UK to get services for men facing prostate cancer back up and running.
  • Through the One Cancer Voice network we put forward a 12-point plan to the government to get treatments and research back on track. 
  • Hosted virtual conferences to help health professionals identify men most at risk who needed to be prioritised and created guidelines to advise clinicians on supporting men remotely. 

Adapting to our new environment

The economic impact of the pandemic has been felt across the charity sector. Like many charities, mass-participation events, community fundraisers and sporting challenges generate a significant portion of our annual income, so we had to adapt, innovate and make some tough decisions to be able to continue the fight against prostate cancer. 

Over the summer, we developed digital alternatives to many of our mass-participation events and the response from our supporters has been incredible, far exceeding our initial expectations. This included our trio of Run The Month, Cycle The Month and March The Month which collectively raised more than £1 million.

We considered the immediate financial impact of the lockdown measures and the medium to long-term impact the pandemic has had on the economy.  Focussing in to protect our top priorities, we found new ways to reduce costs by automating processes and further improving our efficiency, as well as tightening our belts. We had to take the painful steps to reduce our staff by almost a third. None of this was easy, but it was necessary to make sure we are in a strong position to continue the fight against prostate cancer, which is needed more than ever.  

The future of research

In our most recent Pioneers Update our Director of Research, Dr Matthew Hobbs provided a stark overview of how the pandemic put our ground-breaking research programme in jeopardy. I’m so proud of how we have weathered the storm of the pandemic. Thanks to your continued support and the diligence of our research team, I am pleased to say we’ve not had to apply cuts to any of our existing grants, which includes over fifty projects. However, having just launched an ambitious revised research strategy earlier in the year, we’ve had to scale back some of our plans with a limited capacity to invest in new research. 

Since 2013, the Pioneers have invested directly into our research programme and we’ve funded projects that will save men’s lives. Your continued support will be crucial as we emerge from the pandemic ready to press ahead in making more vital discoveries in prostate cancer research that men so desperately need.  

Together, I am confident we’ll overcome these ongoing challenges and continue our fight for a future where lives are not limited by prostate cancer. On behalf of everyone at Prostate Cancer UK, and the men whose lives you’re changing, I’d like to say a huge thank you.

Men, we are with you.

Angela Culhane 

Chief Executive

To find out how you can further support the future of prostate cancer research, please get in touch with the Philanthropy team via email: philanthropy@prostatecanceruk.org.