It is a disease that will affect one in eight men in their lifetime, and kills 11,000 of them every year – yet there is still much for us to learn about prostate cancer.
One of the challenges is that the condition manifests itself as a spectrum of diseases that can range from a slow-growing tumour to very aggressive tumours that are fatal. Many cases are diagnosed too late, and treatment options for the most aggressive tumours are still depressingly limited.
Stigma plays its part too, with many men reluctant to come forward with symptoms.
Thankfully, though, that is slowly changing. Today, when you watch football on the TV at the weekend it’s amazing how many football managers and players are wearing Prostate Cancer UK’s ‘Men United’ pin badge to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
People like Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull, both of whom were diagnosed earlier this year, are helping to raise awareness further still by talking about their condition and treatment.
And clearly, the more we talk about prostate cancer the better – we simply have to stop men from dying of embarrassment.
Yet changing public attitudes is only part of the equation. We also need more and better research into the disease to understand how best to improve diagnosis rates, and to help us find new ways of treating the condition with fewer side effects.
Today, we are setting out ambitious plans to recruit 40,000 men into prostate cancer studies, so they can be treated earlier and faster. The £75 million in Government funding will help to refocus our efforts in treating this disease and open up new routes that has the potential to save more lives.
The UK’s biggest and best brains are already pushing ahead with new studies. This includes the Cambridge Prostate Biopsy Device that allows biopsies to be performed through in a less invasive way under local anaesthetic, while at University College London Biomedical Research Centre work is developing on a blood based test that looks at the earliest alterations to the DNA when a cell becomes cancerous.
Other trials include a more precise radiotherapy, called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) that can help men that have been diagnosed with prostate cancer that has not grown outside the prostate gland.
These are just a snapshot of the types of studies being led in partnership with the Government-funded National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), which has recruited patients to more than 90 trials and other prostate cancer studies over the last 12 months.
Today’s research fund will open up further opportunities for game-changing research in the future. The simple fact is that for many men with prostate cancer, the odds are currently stacked against them – our plans can now help shift the balance in their favour.
Steve Brine is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care and Conservative MP for Winchester