Checks for prostate cancer hit all-time high on back of NHS and charity awareness campaign

Record numbers of men are getting checked for prostate cancer thanks to a lifesaving awareness raising campaign, the NHS said today.

Urgent referrals for urological cancers reached an all-time high in March this year, with almost 25,000 people (24,331) checked in just one month, following a campaign launched by the NHS and Prostate Cancer UK in February.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard praised the campaign today and said that the drive will have already helped to catch more cases of prostate cancer and that “talking about cancer helps the NHS to save more lives”.

The NHS teamed up with Prostate Cancer UK to deliver a six-week campaign from mid-February, urging men to use the charity’s online risk checker in a bid to reduce the shortfall in men starting prostate cancer treatment since the pandemic began.

The latest NHS figures show the campaign had an immediate impact as urological cancer referrals in March increased by more than a fifth (23%) compared to the previous month and are up by almost one third (30%) compared with the same month last year.

Symptoms of prostate cancer often do not show up during early stages but men who have higher risk are encouraged to come forward for checks.

More than half a million people (550,000) checked their risk of developing the disease online during the six weeks of the campaign with men deemed high risk encouraged to visit their GP to get checked out.

Health chiefs have doubled spending on cancer awareness campaigns since before the pandemic.

This high profile prostate campaign coincided with the launch of a new phase of the NHS’s ‘Help Us Help You’ campaign which focused on helping people overcome barriers like fear and anxiety that often delay or prevent them coming forward – with both running across TV, radio, print, social media and out-of-home advertising.

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard, said: “Lives are being saved thanks to a record-breaking number of men taking the vital decision to get an NHS cancer check.

“The NHS in England has seen all-time high levels of referrals for urological cancers but we know there is more to do to catch cancers earlier, which is why we’re investing billions to expand diagnostic and treatment capacity to treat more people sooner, as part of the most ambitious recovery plan in NHS history.

“It can feel daunting confronting issues but talking about cancer can save lives, and it is so important that anyone at higher risk or who has concerns, follows the lead of people like Stephen Fry, Rod Stewart and Bill Turnbull, to get seen and treated as quickly as possible”.

Research has shown that 56% of people say a cancer diagnosis is their biggest health fear with 42% of those surveyed saying they would ignore symptoms, look for answers online or wait until anything has changed before seeing a GP.

Prostate cancer, one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers, is very treatable if caught early, so it’s vitally important that these men are found quickly before their cancer spreads. Research suggests treatment at stages 1 and 2 has a near 100% survival rate compared to around 50% at stage 4.

While most men with early prostate cancer won’t have any signs or symptoms of the disease, symptoms to be aware of include needing to pee more frequently, weak flow, and blood in your urine. For a full list, see the NHS website.

Through the NHS and charity campaign, men are encouraged to learn more about their risk via the online risk checker, which is higher in men over 50, black men and men whose father or brother had the disease.

National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said: “Prostate cancer may not show symptoms in its early stages, where it is more easily treatable, but the risk factors for men are well-researched meaning it is important for those at higher risk to come forward for checks.

“By using the Prostate Cancer UK risk checker, as over half a million have already done, you will be able to understand your risk more and where to go for more advice.

“And as ever, anyone who does experience symptoms such as problems urinating or needing to pee more often, should speak to their doctor to get checked”.

Chiara De Biase, Director of Support and Influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, but the pandemic meant thousands of men did not come forward for diagnosis and could be missing out on life-saving treatment.

“We’re delighted that record numbers of men have already spoken to their GP, because it’s so important that these men are found and referred.

“But we can’t stop here. We need to keep up the momentum, which is why we’re asking everyone to keep sharing our risk checker so even more men can find out about their risk and what to do about it”.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “More people are coming forward for life-saving urological cancer checks and treatment thanks to some fantastic work in raising awareness of the risk factors.

“Seeking advice if you have any concerns could stop the disease in its tracks and ultimately save your life.

“We will set out a 10-Year Cancer Plan this summer, with a focus on early diagnosis and innovative treatments – both of which will help us tackle the COVID backlog”.

It is the most common cancer in men with 1 in 8 getting it in their lifetime. Men over 50, black men, or those whose father or brother had the disease are at even greater risk.

The latest monthly performance stats also showed the NHS saw the highest month on record for total cancer referrals, with more than a quarter of a million people checked in March alone – an almost 40% increase on the number of checks made in March 2020.

Alongside this, almost 30,000 people started treatment for cancer (28,378) – the second highest number on record. This is second only to March 2020, with 28,881 people starting treatment.

Nick Lambert, 70, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2020 after taking Prostate Cancer UK’s risk checker.

Nick said: “I decided to take the risk checker after seeing it regularly in the footer of my friend Mark’s emails. Both my father and uncle had had prostate cancer, so after using it I spoke to my GP who referred me for a blood test – and that’s how I found out I had prostate cancer.

“It’s great to hear that so many other men have been learning about their risk and speaking to their GP about prostate cancer. Now we need to keep shouting about it and help more men do the same so we can make sure they’re diagnosed as early as possible”.

Local teams across the country are working to roll out initiatives including one stop shops for tests, mobile clinics and cancer symptom hotlines, ensuring people are diagnosed and treated as early as possible to give them a much better chance of beating the disease.

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London has teamed up with RM Partners West London Cancer Alliance and The Institute of Cancer Research to introduce the “Man Van” programme which provides free health checks and boosts early diagnosis of prostate and other urological cancers.

The van has previously visited workplaces and churches around South West London and has focused on targeting men of working age, who have worse prostate cancer results than older men, and black men, who have roughly double the risk of developing prostate cancer and an increased risk of death once diagnosed.

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