Prostate Cancer - a cause for action
Prostate cancer - for so long a neglected health issue - neither understood by the public nor prioritised by politicians, but in recent years has been supported with more than £400,000 from London Freemasons.
Every year in the UK, nearly 25,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and nearly 10,000 men will die. It is now the most common cancer affecting men.
Prostate Cancer is one of the great health issues of our time," says Professor Jonathan Waxman, Chairman of The Prostate Cancer Charity.
"When I founded the Charity in 1996, underfunding by successive governments of research and of public awareness and information had resulted in a very serious situation. Research funding by the government, in particular, was pitifully small".
He adds: "Yet there is a real sense that for prostate cancer the time has come. It is at last being prioritised by Government, there is widespread political support and interest, research investment is growing and we are seeing unprecedented media coverage."
The single greatest challenge is lack of public awareness. Most men have no idea that they possess a prostate gland - never mind where it is or what it does. It is no surprise that far too few men can recognise the symptoms of prostate cancer if they begin to experience them. Add to that the proverbial reluctance of the average male to go to the doctor, and the embarrassment felt by many men about the symptoms, and the challenge is multiplied many times. Early diagnosis is crucial. If the disease is detected before it has spread beyond the prostate gland there is a higher likelihood of successful treatment. Lack of awareness can therefore be deadly. If a man does not know what his symptoms may mean - and is also embarrassed by them - he is unlikely to consult his GP before it is too late.
The Prostate Cancer Charity raises awareness about the prostate and about prostate cancer in carefully targeted campaigns. Prostate Cancer Awareness Week takes place every year at the end of March.
The prostate gland lies at the base of a man's bladder. It is approximately the size of a walnut and its role is to produce some of the fluid that makes up semen. The gland surrounds the upper part of the urethra which is the tube that carries urine and semen through the penis.
As men grow older the prostate gland grows. This general enlargement of the prostate is common and is called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). This can cause problems with the enlarged prostate pressing on the urethra and slowing down the flow of urine. Prostate cancer can cause similar urinary problems.
Not all men with prostate cancer have symptoms, and not all men have exactly the same symptoms. However, if and when they appear, the symptoms of prostate cancer tend to involve urinary problems.
It is important to realise that any of these symptoms can be caused by problems that have nothing to do with prostate cancer. Again, it is important to realise that any of these symptoms can be caused by other problems that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.
When a GP considers from the symptoms that there may be a prostate problem, the doctor will do some tests. These are likely be a physical examination called a digital rectal examination (DRE) and a blood test to measure the PSA level.
The DRE shows the GP whether there is any irregularity or hardness in the surface of the prostate. The PSA test measures the level of prostate specific antigens (proteins) in the blood. It is normal to have some PSA in the blood. If there is a problem in the prostate, the levels in the blood go up. The normal level is up to four for a man of 60. It is slightly lower for younger men and slightly more for older men. The PSA test is not a test for cancer, but can show the GP that there is a problem with the prostate.
Research funded by the Charity covers the breadth of a man's experience of prostate cancer. For example, through the Charity, the London Freemasons have provided funding of £206,000 over the last three years for a project to search for a reliable, easy-to-administer diagnostic test.
If successful this could lead to the opportunity to introduce mass screening for prostate cancer. Another project is looking into the possibility of developing a gene therapy against prostate cancer, and another group of scientists is searching for new ways to treat advanced prostate cancers once hormone therapy - the current standard treatment - stops working.
A further £202,000 has been donated over the last three years by London Freemasons towards such research projects.
There is a confidential helpline staffed by specialist nurses who are able to discuss the questions men, or members of the family, want to ask. The Helpline number is 0845 300 8383. It is open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday, and all calls are charged at local rates.
Web site created by Mark Griffin