Prostate cancer cases hit 40,000 for first time

Increase put down to testing methods

The number of men diagnosed with cancer in the UK in a year has risen above 40,000 for the first time, according to figures published today by Cancer Research UK.

In 2009, approximately 40,800 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, a figure which has risen from 14,000 since 1989. 

However, Cancer Research UK says much of the increase has been linked to greater use of PSA (prostate specific antigen) testing, and is warning that better tools are needed to help identify which prostate cancers need treating.

PSA measures a chemical produced by the prostate that may be raised when a man has prostate cancer. This form of testing has been used in the UK since 1989, and since then prostate cancer incidence rates have more than doubled from 47.4 to 102.9 per 100,000 men, although the rates have been fairly stable since the year 2000.

PSA testing is not currently used as part of a national cancer screening programme, as Cancer Research says that high PSA levels are not a good indicator of whether or not a man has prostate cancer.

Research suggests that up to two thirds of men with high PSA levels do not have prostate cancer, while the test is also unable to reliably distinguish between aggressive prostate cancers that need treating or slow-growing cancers that may not.

Professor Malcolm Mason, prostate cancer expert at Cancer Research UK, said: “Accurately diagnosing and predicting the need for treatment of prostate cancer is fraught with difficulties and there is no escaping the fact that we need a better tool than PSA to help detect prostate cancers that actually need treating.”

He added: "We urgently need to find better tests that tell us more about a man’s prostate cancer. Is the disease going to sit quietly in the background and never cause a problem or do we need to treat it aggressively?

“If we can accurately answer these questions, we could spare thousands of men unnecessary treatment.”

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