Prostate cancer set to become most common form of disease, with half of cases diagnosed late

Laura Donnelly
Actor Ben Stiller has spoken about his diagnosis with prostate cancer  - Joel Ryan 

Prostate cancer is set to become the UK’s most common form of cancer within a decade, amid warnings that more than half of cases are being diagnosed late, a major report warns.

The research shows deaths from the disease have reached a record high - with more than 12,000 cases a year, up almost a fifth in a decade

The new analysis shows that just 47 per cent of cases are being spotted at an early stage, when it is far less deadly. 

Despite medical advances in the field, and Government pledges to speed up diagnosis, that figure has remained stubbornly unchanged since 2012. 

Experts warned that without major breakthroughs, the disease is set to replace breast cancer as the most common form of cancer being diagnosed in the UK.

While deaths from breast cancer have fallen five per cent in a decade those from prostate cancer have risen 17 per cent, the research shows. 

Charities said far more research was needed into the disease, in order to boost earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment. 

Currently, prostate cancer research receives around £23 million a year in funding, compared with the £44 million received for studies on breast cancer.

The new analysis by Prostate Cancer, based on figures from the Office for National Statistics,  reveals there were 12,031 deaths from the disease in 2017 - the most recent figures available - up from 10,242 in 2007.

Meanwhile deaths from breast cancer fell from 11,993 to 11,371 a year over the decade. 

In 2017, 48,561 men were newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, while there were 55,213 diagnoses of breast cancer. 

But forecasts suggest that by 2030, there will be more than 61,000 diagnosis of prostate cancer annually, compared with around 57,000 cases of breast cancer. 

In recent years, efforts to tackle breast cancer have included a focus on prevention - via healthy lifestyle advice, as well as genetic testing for those most at risk. 

But prostate cancer experts said far more progress is needed to ensure that promising advances in diagnosis and treatment of the disease mean fewer men suffer or die from it. 

Angela Culhane, chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK said the latest figures were a “stark reminder” that efforts to tackle the disease needed to be redoubled. 

She said: “By 2030, prostate cancer is set to be the most commonly diagnosed of all cancers in the UK. Before we reach this point, we absolutely must ensure that as many of these men as possible have their prostate cancer caught early and successfully treated, so their lives are not cut short by the disease.”

Prostate Cancer UK says improvements in diagnosis and research could mean the introduction of routine NHS screening . 

All women in England are invited for a mammogram to check for breast cancer every three years from the age of 50 to 70.

However, the current screening test for prostate cancer is so unreliable that applying it to symptomless men across the board would do more harm than good.

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test is thought to miss around 15 percent of cancers, while flagging up many which will never pose a risk.

Last year British researchers developed a one-off scan which could be given to men in their 50s, giving notice of deadly cancers years before they caused harm.

Trials are now underway to see if their MRI  (magnetic resonance imaging) technique could be used universally. 

Calling on the Government to uphold funding commitments which promised £75 extra for research, and £10m for diagnostic capacity, Ms Culhane said: “Our research investments are already helping extend and improve the lives of men with this disease, but we need to redouble our efforts if we are to achieve change fast enough.”

Currently just half of all patients with cancer receive a diagnosis at an early stage, when it is far more likely to respond to treatment. 

Ministers have pledged to ensure that by 2028, three quarters of cases are diagnosed early.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ." We are committed to doing everything we can to reduce the number of lives tragically taken by prostate cancer.  

“Recently, we have seen an increase in one-year prostate cancer survival rates and the Government has announced £75 million for prostate cancer research over the next five years. The NHS Long Term Plan pledged £200 million for new equipment to drive earlier diagnosis of cancer and improve survival.”