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Monday, 23 March, 1998, 06:57 GMT
Palin backs prostate networkers
Michael Palin: "Prostate cancer is affecting more men of my age and their families"
The former Monty Python star Michael Palin is giving his support to a campaign aimed at encouraging men to talk about prostate cancer and end the taboo which stops them from seeking advice.

"Though not a sufferer myself, I am aware that prostate cancer is affecting more and more men of my age, and inevitably their families," he said.

The Prostate Cancer Charity, which is organising Prostate Cancer Awareness Day on Monday, says most sufferers believe not enough help is available.

"The charity's survey reveals that many people still feel embarrassed to talk about the subject, or lack the information to help them to ask the right questions of clinicians or others," Mr Palin said.

"Consequently, they often suffer alone."

Unlike breast cancer, a taboo persists around prostate cancer
Around 300 Britons develop prostate cancer each week and 9,000 men die of the disease each year in England and Wales.

Around 80% of men older than 80 develop prostate cancer. But the condition develops slowly and most will die first of another illness.

When the disease is quickly identified by the sufferer before it has spread outside the prostate, it can be cured by removing or irradiating the gland, which lies at the bottom of the bladder.

But the slow development of the cancer means surgeons sometimes decide it is not in the patient's best interests to operate.

New means of checking

Researchers in New York revealed a new test on Sunday designed to give an earlier diagnosis if the cancer has spread beyond the prostate.

The development could bring increased hope to men who develop the cancer in the future, but for many sufferers support and advice on dealing with the condition is more immediately needed.

The Prostate Cancer Charity is promoting its national network of people who are living with the disease.

The initiative has been set up over the past year by 23 people. The charity hopes it can benefit far greater numbers.

It carried out a survey and found 76% of patients and 99% of family members want to meet others in the same position.

Desire for more information

One of the prostate cancer sufferers who took part in the pilot scheme, Jeremy Gambrill from West Sussex, said it filled an important gap.

"The results of the survey clearly demonstrate that patients and their families want to be more informed about their condition to help them deal with the implications of living with the disease.

"Prostate Cancer Networkers will be a lifeline to thousands of sufferers and their families, allowing like-minded people to speak in everyday language about the disease and the fears and decisions that they face."

The Prostate Cancer Charity is also distributing a leaflet titled "Prostate Cancer - Everything You Need To Know" to encourage people to look for symptoms of the disease.

Men whose fathers had prostate cancer have a 50% greater chance of developing it themselves.

While the other causes remain uncertain, diet and other lifestyle factors are believed to play a part.

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