12/09/2017 09:48 BST | Updated 12/09/2017 09:48 BST

Weighing Up The Cost Of PSA Screening For Prostate Cancer

More often than not, men are a little sensitive when it comes to talking about problems below the belt.

I can't blame them - no one particularly wants to sit in front of their doctor and talk about intimate issues.

But prostate cancer is a disease which is only becoming more common, and it's time we sit up and face the facts.

In the UK alone, incidence of prostate cancer are expected to rise 12% by 2035. More than 11,000 men die from the disease each year, and it's the most common form of cancer in men. Yet there is still no national screening programme.

The closest thing we have to a screening tool is the PSA test.

The test, which is not routinely offered on the NHS, measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in the blood.

A high reading can detect the presence of prostate cancer, but it can also detect an enlarged or inflamed prostate.

It's this unreliability which makes the test controversial, and splits the medical community on its advantages versus disadvantages.

Two recent studies from the US have provided evidence that screening can actually reduce deaths from prostate cancer by as much as 27 to 32%.

The findings go against the current recommendations by the NHS Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme, who do not support it.

Personally, I think that while the PSA test has faults it's currently the only tool we have.

The Proton Therapy Center carried out a survey this month on 1,000 men from the UK and Ireland aged 50 and above and found almost all men thought there should be a national screening for prostate cancer.

49% said they believed it should be a priority, while 44% said it should be introduced at some point in the future.

Of the people who had not been screened, two thirds said it was because the GP did not offer it, while 22% said they did not know what the process involved.

Most worryingly, 80% said they were too "embarrassed" to have their prostate checked.

The current advice is for men to speak to their GP about whether the PSA test is right for them. As we know, sometimes it's not as simple as initiating a conversation with your local doctor about the health of your prostate.

At the Proton Therapy Center prostate cancer is by far the most common diagnosis. Most of the men we see are in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and are incredibly conscious about maintaining their quality of life after treatment.

They don't see themselves as old men - and nor should they - and they certainly don't want to be consigned to a life of incontinence or erectile dysfunction.

That's why proton therapy, which targets the shape and depth of a tumour to allow healthy tissue to remain undamaged, is becoming ever popular.

Set side by side with surgical treatments and other types of radiotherapy, proton therapy is very successful.

The technology is on an intensive rise at the moment, but as with every other treatment option, the earlier the disease is detected the better.

The new findings, by the Fed Hutchison Cancer Research Centre in Seattle and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest the current guidelines recommending against routine PSA screening may need to be looked at again.

Until then, we urgently need to reassure men that it's okay to talk about their prostate.