IS THIS A CASE OF BIAS AGAINST MEN?
New figures show prostate is now a bigger killer than breast cancer ... which gets TWICE the funding
PROSTATE cancer has become a bigger killer than breast cancer for the first time, official statistics reveal today.
More than 11,800 men a year are now killed by the disease in Britain, compared with about 11,400 women dying of breast cancer. It means prostate cancer has overtaken breast cancer as the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, behind only lung and bowel.
Despite this, it receives less than half the research funding of breast cancer – while experts warn that treatments for the disease are trailing at least a decade behind.
The Daily Mail has been campaigning for
nearly 20 years to raise the profile of prostate cancer. But while care has leapt forward since the Mail’s ‘Dying of Embarrassment’ campaign began in 1999, it has been slow compared with the impressive advances made on breast cancer.
Last night, charities called for action to improve survival chances for prostate sufferers. They said that with an improvement in funding, deaths could be ‘dramatically’ reduced over the next decade.
The annual number of breast cancer deaths fell by 1,500 between 1999 and 2015, the Office for National Statistics figures show. This reflects extraordinary strides made in research, screening and treatment to tackle a disease that affects 55,000 women a year.
However, over the same period, the yearly death toll for prostate cancer – the most common male cancer, with 47,000 British men diagnosed each year – rose by 2,400.
In 1999, some 9,460 men died from prostate cancer, compared with 12,947 deaths from breast cancer. Breast cancer is very rare among men, with 80 deaths in the UK in 2015.
The ONS figures show that by 2015 – the most recent year with available data – male prostate deaths had risen to 11,819, surpassing the breast cancer deaths, which had dropped to 11,442.
The ageing population is the main reason for the increase in prostate cancer deaths – with older men more likely to get an aggressive form. And men are far more likely to ignore symptoms than women.
But last night experts said the gulf in research funding is also driving the disparity.
Professor Nick James, a leading prostate cancer researcher from Birmingham University, said: ‘ We are ten if not 20 years behind breast cancer in terms of research. We are playing a late game of catch-up.’
Another factor is that while screening for breast cancer is routine – with middle-aged women invited for scans every three years – tests for prostate cancer are notoriously inaccurate and there is no national screening programme. Angela Culhane, of Prostate Cancer UK, which released the figures, said: ‘With half the investment and half the research it’s not surprising progress in prostate cancer is lagging behind … the good news is many of these developments could be applied to prostate cancer and we’re confident, with the right funding, we can dramatically reduce deaths within the next decade.’
Men with prostate cancer wait four times longer for diagnosis than women with breast cancer – and a quarter of men wait 126 days.
Prostate cancer has had £227million of government and charity funds since 2002, less than half the £529million invested in breast cancer. The results can be seen in the research output – with 9,300 prostate research papers published globally last year, compared with 21,000 breast cancer papers.
And the impact can be seen in the vast disparity in care. Breast cancer has seen rapid strides in treatments in recent years – with revolutionary precision and immunotherapy drugs such as Kadcyla and Herceptin transforming the way women are treated.
But men with prostate cancer still rely on hormone treatments and chemotherapy which have in essence hardly changed in years.
Professor James said: ‘Hormone treatments have been the treatment mainstay for prostate cancer since the 1940s.’
He stressed that better hormone treatments have emerged, such as Abiraterone, but prostate cancer is yet to benefit from breakthroughs in precision medicine.
‘These trials were done in breast cancer ten or 20 years ago,’ he said. ‘We are following the same pathway as breast cancer but we have to wait ten years for answers.’
The other key drawback is screening. Men over 50 are eligible for a ‘PSA’ blood test which gives only a rough idea of whether they are at risk, and then sent for biopsies, which are also inaccurate.
Professor Mark Emberton of University College London said: ‘The great tragedy here is we have spent a lot of money on trials that have failed … the answer is MRI.’ But many hospitals do not have the right equipment for the scans. Prostate Cancer UK estimates it needs to fund £120million worth of research over the next eight years to achieve its ten-year goal to halve the number of expected prostate cancer deaths by 2026.
Ms Culhane added: ‘Plans to create an accurate test, fit for use as part of a nationwide prostate cancer screening programme, as well as developing new treatments for advanced prostate cancer, are already well underway … to achieve these aims we need to increase our investment in research.’ There is a big difference in publicity for pros-
tate and breast cancer. The latter has been the subject of major campaigns since the early 1990s, with the pink ribbon and race for Life raising funding and awareness. It was not until 2007 that Movember, the annual men’s cancer campaign, came to Britain.
Baroness Delyth Morgan of Breast Cancer Now said: ‘Comparing survival figures in this way must not hide the very real concerns that progress on breast cancer in the UK is now stalling. We urgently need to invest in research to stop more patients dying from breast, prostate and many other cancers.’ A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Cancer survival rates are at a record high and are improving year- onyear … But we want to be even better. That’s why our research arm is currently doing a £4million cutting- edge research project into prostate cancer at The royal Marsden [Hospital], amongst other research on prostate cancer. We have already committed £200million over the next two years to improve early diagnosis and care.’
FORGIVE the dark irony, but it’s a blatant case of discrimination against men. New figures published today show prostate cancer has become a bigger killer than breast cancer for the first time. There is one very simple reason – more than twice as much is spent on breast cancer research. In addition, a well publicised mass screening programme has seen women’s survival rates soar. True, many men are embarrassed and reluctant to have their prostate checked, but even those who do see a doctor wait four times longer for a diagnosis than women with breast cancer.
For nearly 20 years, the Mail has campaigned to raise awareness of prostate cancer, but it remains woefully low on the list of NHS priorities. There is no screening, PSA blood tests remain notoriously unreliable and therapies have barely moved on in decades. Men are effectively dying of complacency and indifference.
So yes, we welcome the fall in breast cancer deaths which is rightly a source of pride for the NHS. But the fact that prostate cancer deaths are at a record high is a source of shame.