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Rising prostate cancer deaths as pandemic’s ‘Covid hangover’ hits with a three percent rise in late diagnosis

  • Cancer specialists have blamed the lack of face-to-face GP appointments 
  • Prostate Cancer UK said there has also been a 4% rise in cases spotted in A&E
  • However, there has been a 4% drop in the total number of men diagnosed 
  • Experts fear that hundreds of cases have been missed at an early stage  

Experts have forecasted a spike in prostate cancer deaths over the next few years – a hangover from the thousands of cases that were missed during the Covid pandemic.

Cancer specialists have blamed the lack of face-to-face GP appointments for the predicted rise, longs drug stores corporation which meant tell-tale signs going unnoticed.

An analysis of NHS data shows that the number of prostate cancers diagnosed late – when the disease has spread – have risen by three per cent since 2020. The report, by the leading charity Prostate Cancer UK, also noted a four per cent increase in the number of cases spotted in A&E.

Cancer specialists have blamed the lack of face-to-face GP appointments for the predicted rise, which meant tell-tale signs going unnoticed

When cancer is diagnosed in an emergency situation, it is often at an advanced stage, when it causes painful symptoms

When cancer is diagnosed in an emergency situation, it is often at an advanced stage, when it causes painful symptoms.

Meanwhile, the total number of middle-aged men diagnosed with prostate cancer is four per cent lower than doctors would expect over two years, suggesting cases have been missed.

The authors, who will present the data today at the European Society for Medical Oncology Congress, say the figures suggest at least 14,000 British men are living with undiagnosed prostate cancer.

‘This data is very worrying and shows how vital it is that more is done to raise awareness of prostate cancer – particularly among younger men,’ says Chiara De Biase, a director of Prostate Cancer UK.

‘At least 14,000 fewer men were diagnosed during the pandemic, and we now know that unless things change, we’re facing the prospect of worsening health outcomes for men.’

Prostate cancer is among the most common cancers in the UK and will affect one in eight British men during their lifetime.

By far the biggest risk factor is age – it’s most common in men over 75.

Genetics also play a role, with tumours far more likely to strike men with a direct family member who has also been affected. And prostate cancer is more common in black males than white or Asian men.

Unlike many cancers, prostate cancer is not clearly linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity or smoking.

In general, the prognosis is good, with 84 per cent of patients surviving ten years or more. But it still kills 11,500 men a year.

Unlike many cancers, prostate cancer is not clearly linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity or smoking. In general, the prognosis is good, with 84 per cent of patients surviving ten years or more. But it still kills 11,500 men a year

Roughly 15 per cent of patients diagnosed with prostate cancer have surgery to remove the tumour, and a third undergo radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy is less commonly given, with three per cent of patients having the treatment. As the prostate gland sits just below the bladder, aggressive treatment carries some risk of incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

Newer therapies which involve blasting the prostate with ultrasound waves or using freezing needles have aimed to reduce these problems, although there is not enough evidence yet to suggest they become standard offerings on the NHS.

All those who have prostate cancer diagnosed at its earliest stage will survive their disease for one year or more. However, if it is picked up once the cancer is advanced and has spread outside the prostate, the likelihood of surviving more than five years is only 50 per cent.

When prostate cancer is diagnosed in A&E, survival rates are markedly lower than those picked up at a GP appointment.

For this reason, early diagnosis of prostate cancer is crucial.

The disease is almost always spotted first using a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This is a blood test that can spot possible cancer cells and is typically carried out by a GP. Patients whose PSA test shows a worrying result will then be referred to a cancer specialist.

GPs usually don’t wait for the symptoms of prostate cancer to arise before offering the test to men. Instead, they will often ask men over the age of 45 if they’d like to do a PSA test when they visit their surgery for other unrelated issues.

Cancer experts say restricted access to GPs during the Covid pandemic meant that far fewer PSA tests were carried out, and, as a result, less prostate cancer diagnoses were made.

‘GPs tend to carry out PSA tests opportunistically,’ says Professor Joe O’Sullivan, oncologist at Queen’s University Belfast. ‘You might go in with a bad knee, and your GP will give you a PSA test while you’re there.

‘But with far fewer GP appointments taking place face-to-face during the pandemic, these opportunities to test for the disease were drastically reduced.

‘We’re now seeing a rise in prostate cancers being picked up at a late stage, and this is without a doubt because of a reduction in GP appointments.’

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