Ten Years to Tame Prostate Cancer, Ten Years to Make History

29/02/2016 12:26 GMT | Updated 26/02/2017 10:12 GMT

I never imagined I'd ever be sitting in London's City Hall quoting Joseph Stalin to myself. But last night, there I was, in Boris's glassy beehive on the Thames, with the dictator's chilling quote that "a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic" reverberating round my head like an earworm.

We'd brought together a panel of eminent scientists, chaired by legendary Professor Robert Winston, to discuss some dreadful prostate cancer statistics. Why? Because we've got a plan to change them. But it was sobering that every time a number was mentioned, we were all keenly aware that many of the audience either had prostate cancer themselves or were there because someone they loved had become yet another of the UK's statistics. For example:

10,900 men die of prostate cancer every year. That's one every hour. 44,000 are diagnosed every 12 months, and one in every three diagnosed will die of the disease. I could go on, but I won't. Enough to say that these stats, which are bad anyway, are heading in the wrong direction.

Deaths from prostate cancer are actually set to soar over the next decade, rising to over 14,500 men every year. And by 2030, prostate cancer will be the most common cancer in the UK, even though women can't get it and children don't.

Seen just as Stalin's statistics, these figures could be ignored - but let's not pretend these are mere numbers. They are the tragic losses of our friends. Our brothers. Our fathers. Men who mean the world to us, men who die too early from prostate cancer when they're all too often in the prime of their business, family and social life, at the top of their game, and at the very height of their powers.

And if having a father or uncle or grandpa die from prostate cancer isn't hard enough for a man to deal with, it also comes with the baggage that this family link increases his risk - by two and half times - of getting the disease himself.

And that's why we were all there, to launch 'Ten Years to Tame Prostate Cancer', our plan to halve deaths from this disease by 2026 - with an eye to ending them completely in the foreseeable future. A commitment to shift the science to make the disease something that the next generation of men needn't fear.

Why now? Well, we've discovered more about prostate cancer in the last 20 years than ever before. We're getting to grips with how it evolves, and how it can vary from man to man. There are new life-prolonging treatments for advanced disease and we're on the brink of crucial scientific breakthroughs that can stop prostate cancer in its tracks.

And how are we going to do it? By concentrating all our firepower on four priority areas.

Firstly, better diagnosis:

Getting a proper test is key. So we'll fund research to pick up on aggressive prostate cancer sooner, predict and manage the impact it'll have - and cut today's number of biopsies and unnecessary treatments for cancers that are actually harmless. And last night we announced Prostate Cancer UK has committed £2 million to develop a revolutionary risk screening tool. This tool will be a first-line detector, establishing a man's danger from aggressive prostate cancer and transforming diagnosis. Within five years, we want to get this into use in GPs' surgeries across the UK.

Secondly, better treatments:

We'll invest in developing better treatments, with fewer side effects, and get them into the hands of the men who need them, wherever they live in the UK.

Thirdly, better prevention:

We'll prioritise nailing what makes a cancer cell tick, so we can stop it from starting, and block it from returning after primary treatment.

And finally, better support:

We'll continue supporting men directly ourselves, but we'll also demand that other organisations meet their responsibilities. We'll work with - and challenge - the country's health services to pinpoint and implement the changes necessary to deliver innovative care.

And yes, we really do calculate that at the very least we can halve the number of men dying from prostate cancer in a decade by cracking these four issues.

For me, last night's roundtable discussion illustrated perfectly how taming prostate cancer needs to be a collaborative effort. There's no point funding breakthroughs in research if we can't get the benefits out to men in the real world as quickly as possible.

And it also highlighted the investment needed - funding, time, and expertise - to shift these advances in diagnosis and treatment out of the lab and into the UK's hospitals and surgeries. That;'s where we all come in. Everyone last night was massively excited to hear that the 'unbelievable' Jeff Stelling was stepping up to support the 10-year strategy next month by walking 10 marathons in 10 days - and he's already raised £70k before he's walked a single step! Keep on eye on Jeff's progress by searching online for Jeff's March.

We've got ten years to make history. One unnecessary death isn't just a tragedy; it's one death too many. And 10,900 deaths isn't just a statistic.

It's a scandal.