Prostate cancer is now the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, according to new figures released by Prostate Cancer UK. Every year, 11,819 men die from prostate cancer, compared to 11,442 breast cancer deaths. And while the number of women dying from breast cancer has been steadily decreasing since 1999, prostate cancer deaths are still on the rise.
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But that's not the whole story. The mortality rate – that's the proportion of men dying from the disease, as opposed to the total number – actually fell by six per cent between 2010 and 2015. Risk increases sharply with age, and one of the reasons why incidence rates are rising is simply because men are living longer.
One in eight men will now be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime, but the vast majority – a very encouraging 84 per cent – will survive for at least 10 years, according to Cancer Research UK.
How can prostate cancer survival rates improve?
In fact, survival rates have tripled in the past 40 years – and that's largely due to advances in diagnostic testing and treatments, as well as increased public awareness of the disease and its risk factors and symptoms. However, as the new figures suggest, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
'It's incredibly encouraging to see the tremendous progress that has been made in breast cancer over recent years,' says Prostate Cancer UK's chief executive Angela Culhane. 'But with half the investment and half the research, it's not surprising that progress in prostate cancer is lagging behind. The good news is that many of these developments could be applied to prostate cancer and we're confident that with the right funding, we can dramatically reduce deaths within the next decade.'
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is normally symptom-free until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra, which results in urination problems. Symptoms can include needing to pee more often, weak flow, feeling the bladder hasn't completely emptied or difficulties in peeing at all.
These may also be symptoms of a urinary tract infection or non-cancerous enlarged prostate. In any case, it's important to consult your GP as soon as possible so the condition can be diagnosed and treated effectively.
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
There is currently no single test for prostate cancer – although warning signs can be picked up with a simple blood test to screen for levels of a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Raised levels of PSA may be a sign of prostate cancer in its early stages.
However, PSA testing isn't a specific test for cancer. More than 65 per cent of men with raised PSA don't have cancer, and PSA levels tend to increase with age anyway. A firm diagnosis is usually made following digital rectal examination and biopsy.
Researchers are currently working on an accurate test to use as part of a nationwide prostate cancer screening programme. This would hopefully be as effective as the breast cancer and cervical cancer screening programmes have been for women.
How is prostate cancer treated?
Treatment plans vary, depending on individual circumstances. In many cases, no treatment is needed unless the cancer shows signs of worsening or causing symptoms. If treatment is required, it may include surgery to remove some or all of the prostate, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormone therapy, given as injections or tablets.
Learn more about prostate cancer treatment options
And treatment breakthroughs are being made all the time. An example? A new drug, Apalutamide, may allow men with an advanced form of prostate cancer to live for an extra two years, according to a recent ground-breaking clinical trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Ultimately, though, funding for research and raised awareness are desperately needed in order to save even more lives.
Want to help raise vital funds for better prostate cancer testing and treatments? Sign up for one of Prostate Cancer UK's March for Men walks this summer (marchformen.org)
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