‘Prostate cancer is now a big­ger killer than breast cancer’

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - HEALTH - BEN SPENCER

GARY Pet­tit con­sid­ers him­self to be one of the for­tu­nate ones.

Six years ago he was of­fered a pri­vate med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion by his new em­ployer.

Even though he was just 42, a blood test re­vealed high lev­els of PSA – a pro­tein linked to prostate cancer.

“I had no symp­toms and if I had not had that med­i­cal it would never have been picked up,” he said.

“I con­sider my­self to be very lucky.”

A biopsy at the Royal

Mars­den Hospi­tal in west

Lon­don con­firmed that he had an ag­gres­sive form of prostate cancer.

A month later, in May 2012, Pet­tit, 48, from Loughton in Es­sex, had his prostate re­moved in an eight-hour op­er­a­tion.

He is now clear of the dis­ease and is not on med­i­ca­tion, although he needs reg­u­lar check-ups, is oc­ca­sion­ally in­con­ti­nent and has suf­fered from im­po­tence.

With no na­tional screen­ing pro­gramme for prostate cancer, most men only have a PSA test if they show symp­toms, when it may be too late for ef­fec­tive treat­ment.

Pet­tit said: “It has all gone in­cred­i­bly well for me. But oth­ers are not so lucky. It is as­ton­ish­ing… prostate cancer is now a big­ger killer than breast cancer.

“There is so much aware­ness about breast cancer. But there is still a big taboo about prostate cancer.

“It is a bloke-ish ten­dency to bury your head in the sand and not talk about it.

“For me there was no mid­dle ground. I never had symp­toms and when I was tested it was quite ag­gres­sive, so it was just a case of go­ing into surgery.

“I think some men who have symp­toms ig­nore them. They need to talk about it.

“What has hap­pened to me shows you can come through it.”

Screen­ing for breast cancer is rou­tine, but tests for prostate cancer are more hap­haz­ard, with ac­cu­rate tools only just be­gin­ning to emerge.

The breast screen­ing pro­gramme in the UK, which of­fered mam­mo­grams to all women aged 50-70, is cred­ited with sav­ing 1 400 lives by flag­ging the cancer be­fore it spreads.

But there is no na­tional prostate screen­ing pro­gramme in the UK as for years the tests have been too in­ac­cu­rate.

Doc­tors strug­gle to dis­tin­guish be­tween ag­gres­sive and less se­ri­ous tu­mours, mak­ing it hard to de­cide on treat­ment.

Men older than 50 are el­i­gi­ble for a “PSA” blood test which gives doc­tors a rough idea of whether a pa­tient is at risk. But it is un­re­li­able.

Pa­tients who get a pos­i­tive re­sult are usu­ally given a biopsy which is also not fool proof.

A ma­jor trial last year showed MRI scans were more ac­cu­rate than biop­sies, but only half of hos­pi­tals have the right equip­ment.

The NHS is be­gin­ning to use MRI scan­ners, but this is not yet rou­tine, and still re­lies on pa­tients hav­ing a PSA test or symp­toms first.

A team at UCL is em­bark­ing on a trial of MRI with­out PSA or symp­toms, but the re­search is at an early stage and it will be sev­eral years un­til re­sults are pro­duced.

The lack of an ac­cu­rate test means many men un­dergo treat­ment they do not need. – Daily Mail

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