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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Doctors find it difficult to distinguish between harmless cancers, and fast growing tumours"
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Institute of Cancer Research, Professor Colin Cooper
"We are not good at treating prostate cancer"
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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"One in 12 men will get it at some time in their lives"
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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Action on killer cancer
Radiotherapy is used to treat prostate cancer
The government has launched a drive to combat prostate cancer - a disease likely to become the biggest killer of men in the UK.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn on Wednesday announced an action plan designed to speed up diagnosis, and cut death rates from the disease.

Cancer: the facts

An extra 95 trained specialists in prostate cancer are to be brought into the health service by 2005.

By the end of this year men suspected of having the disease will be able to see a specialist within 14 days of an urgent referral from a GP.

New guidelines for doctors who see men who are worried they have the disease are to be brought in by spring of 2001.

And by 2004 the Department of Health has pledged to directly fund 4.2 million into research into prostate cancer.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn said: "Prostate cancer is the cancer we know least about and yet is one of the most common.

"The NHS Prostate Cancer Programme launched today will mean a twentyfold increase in the directly commissioned funding of prostate cancer research by the Department of Health.

"There is no quick fix to improving outcomes of prostate cancer but the NHS programme is a significant step towards raising the profile of prostate cancer research, diagnosis and treatment."

There are two types of prostate tumour. One is very aggressive and kills many people, while the other is so slow growing that sufferers eventually die of other causes.

However, the current test cannot differentiate between the two. This will be a focus for research.

Prostate cancer is a very major public health issue

Professor Jonathan Waxman, Prostate Cancer Charity

Over 10,000 men die from prostate cancer in the UK each year and 20,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, with rates estimated to rise by almost 50% by 2021.

However, a survey by the Institute of Cancer Research found that men knew more about breast cancer than about prostate cancer.

Experts say the problem is that men are generally ignorant about their health and tend to be embarrassed about prostate and testicular problems.

It is estimated that eight times as much money is spent on women's health than men's in the UK.

However, in 1998 more men in the UK died from cancer than women.


Professor Jonathan Waxman, founder of the Prostate Cancer Charity and a professor oncology at Imperial College, London, welcomed the new initiative.

George Carman
Libel lawyer George Carman has prostate cancer

He said: "Prostate cancer is a very major public health issue, it is the second biggest killer of men among all cancers, and the number of deaths has doubled over the last 20 years."

Professor Waxman said one of the most important issues was whether or not to introduce screening for men over the age of 50.

In the UK just 1-2% of men are screened for prostate cancer, compared to 20% of men in the US.

The government is committed to extending screening for the disease - but not until the current test has been improved.

Warning signs

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, welcomed the government's announcement.

He said: "Prostate cancer has been disgracefully neglected by the NHS and government research funds - until now."

British men have a one in 12 risk of developing prostate cancer during their lives and those with a family history of the disease are particularly at risk.

Warning signs include difficulty or pain when passing urine, the need to pass urine more often, broken sleep due to increased visits to pass urine, waiting for long periods before the urine flows and the feeling that the bladder has not emptied fully.

Prostate cancer can only be cured with early intervention.

Treatment by surgery carries a 90% risk of impotence and a 20% risk of incontinence.

The risks are lower if doctors opt instead to administer radiotherapy.

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See also:

02 Mar 00 | Health
1m for prostate cancer research
29 Mar 00 | Health
Plans to close men's health gap
31 Mar 00 | Health
Cancer survival rates rise
03 Apr 00 | Health
Urine test for prostate cancer
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