UK: How’s Your Father? Improving The Detection And Treatment Of Prostate Cancer

Last Updated: 18 June 2014
Article by Karen Taylor

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

Across the UK, prostate cancer kills one man every hour (or 10,636 every year) and is the most common cancer in men. Indeed, 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and currently there are 255,000 men living with and after the disease.1In the UK prostate cancer survival rates are below the European average and quality of care can depend on where you live.

Last month we reported on the findings from the Macmillan Cancer Support, National Cancer Intelligence Network and Monitor Deloitte Routes from Diagnosis research programme, on what happens to people after they are diagnosed with cancer. Prostate cancer was one of four cancers covered in this report. The research found that while the five-year survival rate has improved surviving does not necessarily mean living well, with only 1 in 4 men with prostate cancer surviving both long-term and in good health. More specifically:

  • 55 per cent of men with prostate cancer will survive for more than seven years, but half will have no further cancer complications or other inpatient morbidities 
  • a considerable percentage of prostate cancer patients (20.4 per cent) survived between only one and seven years with cancer complications - either a recurrence of the prostate cancer or the development of an additional primary cancer
  • men with prostate cancer who survive at least five years after diagnosis have a 60 per cent increased risk of experiencing other morbidities, including serious genitourinary conditions, digestive conditions and musculoskeletal problems; and a 30 per cent increased risk of being diagnosed with a new cancer.

To understand some of the potential reasons behind these statistics we examined some of the current knowledge of prostate cancer in the UK and what is being done to improve diagnosis and treatment. 

The majority of early cases of prostate cancer are symptomless and, unlike breast cancer, the UK does not have a national screening programme. Existing diagnostic tests can be inaccurate, meaning that on one hand, some men receive unnecessary biopsies, while on the other the tests available may fail to detect lethal cancers. In addition, there is no way to easily distinguish between deadly and harmless forms of the disease at the point of diagnosis. Men at increased risk of prostate cancer include those with a family history of the disease in a father or brother, those over the age of 50 and black men (overall, one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and one in four black men). 

Prostate Cancer UK is the country's leading charity for men with prostate cancer and prostate diseases. It was launched in 2012 following the merger of The Prostate Cancer Charity and Prostate Action. Prostate Cancer UK is also one of three national charities that Deloitte LLP has chosen to support as a corporate charity partner from 2013 to 20162. At the heart of the charity is the knowledge that men too often ignore symptoms or are unaware of the risks and the need to develop more effective ways of identifying those at risk of the aggressive, life-threatening form of the disease and those with the non-aggressive form.

A recent survey from Prostate Cancer UK, found that four out of five men who are at higher than average risk of prostate cancer are not aware of this risk and are not having the vital conversations with GPs that could save their lives. This means thousands of men may miss out on being diagnosed at an early stage, when treatment for the disease is most effective. The survey also found that three quarters of men at greater risk admit that, even if they were aware but did not have any symptoms, they would not speak to their GP about it3

Updated guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in January 2013 says men with intermediate or low-risk prostate cancer should consider having regular check-ups instead of immediately undergoing radiotherapy or surgery4. But without fully knowing this risk and faced with a diagnosis of prostate cancer it is difficult to know whether to go for the invasive curative treatment – with side effects that can include incontinence and erectile dysfunction – or wait and monitor how the disease develops. 

There is a clear need to transform the way risk is calculated so the most vulnerable can be diagnosed early enough to have the best chance of survival, whilst those at low risk are spared invasive testing or sometimes unnecessary treatments which can have life changing side effects. In response to this need, Prostate Cancer UK will launch its campaign – 'Seriously, how's your Father'? to coincide with Father's day on June 15th aimed at revolutionising how the disease is detected and treated in the UK. Successful ways to calculate a man's risk already exist in other countries and the challenge is to find one that works effectively in the UK. 

So 'How's your father?' Everyone has a chance to contribute to the campaign this Father's Day by encouraging the men in your life to get the facts about the prostate and associated problems.




4  Diagnosing and treating prostate cancer. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. January 2014. See also:

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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