Concern following dip in prostate cancer referrals

The number of referrals for men who have got suspected urological cancer dipped to its lowest level in 10 years during lockdown, a charity has warned.

Prostate Cancer UK raised concerns that a dip in referrals would mean that more men are diagnosed later on in their illness – potentially meaning their disease has progressed to an incurable stage.

Its analysis of data showed that urgent referrals for urological cancers dropped in England compared to the same period last year.

The charity estimates that there have been 27,000 fewer patients referred than expected since the UK lockdown period began in March this year.

Angela Culhane, chief executive at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Earlier this year, we announced that prostate cancer had become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, thanks largely to a greater awareness of the disease in recent years.

“Detecting prostate cancer earlier helps save lives, but Covid-19 has made it harder for men to visit their doctor this year – especially if they don’t feel unwell or have no symptoms.

“As a result, we estimate there could be 3,500 men in England with a higher-risk prostate cancer which has not yet been diagnosed. If we don’t act now, we could face a future where thousands of men are diagnosed too late, when the cancer has advanced to a stage that cannot be cured.

“Most men with early prostate cancer don’t have any symptoms, so it’s important not to wait until you notice something’s wrong.

“If men are at increased risk because they’re over 50, if they’re black, or if their dad or brother had it, they should call their GP to ask about the pros and cons of a PSA blood test. We’re encouraging everyone to share our 30-second risk checker to help find these men that have missed out on a diagnosis.

“Some areas have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, and it’s critical that men feel safe calling their GP.

“Most GP surgeries offer phone and video consultations, and men need to be reassured that the hospitals their GP may refer them to will be safe and not put them at undue risk from Covid-19.”

Men at risk of prostate cancer, including those over 50, particularly black men, and those with a family history of the disease, are urged to contact their GP to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a PSA blood test which can give an indication of prostate problems.

Professor Peter Johnson, national cancer director for the NHS in England, said: “45,000 more people were referred for cancer treatment in June compared to the month before, while 85,000 people began cancer treatment during the first wave, with 92% of them starting treatment within two weeks.

“As well as referrals for cancer being maintained during the pandemic, including through GP appointments, the NHS also brought in ‘Covid friendly’ cancer drugs, including enzalutamide for prostate cancer, which enabled people to keep going with treatment safely at home, so if you’re a male aged over 50, or have a family history of prostate cancer, get in touch with your GP to discuss your risk.”

– Prostate Cancer UK has launched an online risk checker, available at or anyone with concerns about the disease can speak to a Prostate Cancer UK Specialist Nurse on 0800 074 8383.

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