Referrals for prostate cases plunge by 50% - with an estimated 3,500 lives put at risk
This article featured in The Daily Mail, Tuesday 8th September 2020
BY ELEANOR HAYWARD, HEALTH REPORTER
PROSTATE cancer referrals halved during the lockdown as thousands of men put off seeing their GP, a study shows.
In total 27,000 fewer men have been referred to a specialist with suspected cases compared with the same period last year, according to analysis of NHS data.
The research by Prostate Cancer UK found urgent GP referrals for the disease have plunged to their lowest level in ten years due to the devastating impact of Covid-19.
Experts say the delays mean around 3,500 men with advanced prostate cancer have not yet been diagnosed, putting their lives at risk.
Early diagnosis dramatically raises survival chances, but it is feared coronavirus could undo years of progress.
Patients have found it harder to get face-to-face appointments with GPs during the crisis and many have been concerned about being referred to hospital because of the risk of Covid-19.
Prostate cancer became the UK’s most commonly detected cancer earlier this year, after a surge in men getting tested.
The Daily Mail has spent 20 years campaigning to raise awareness of prostate cancer, to prevent thousands of men dying needlessly through being too slow to report symptoms out of embarrassment or fear.
Figures show there are around 57,000 new prostate cancer cases and 12,000 deaths in the UK each year. But the number of men referred to a specialist after going to their GP with symptoms fell by 49.5 per cent during lockdown.
Prostate Cancer UK said 27,000 fewer patients than would be expected were referred to a specialist between April and June, including around 3,500 with high-risk cancer.
Angela Culhane, chief executive of the charity, said: ‘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.’
Prostate cancer often has no symptoms but some men experience changes including pain during urination.
The charity is urging men to check their risk of prostate cancer using a 30-second online test. Those who are over 50, black or have a family history of prostate cancer are more at risk and are advised to discuss the pros and cons of a ‘PSA’ blood test with their GP.
If this suggests they are at risk, patients will be referred to hospital for further tests. They should be seen by a consultant within two weeks. Miss Culhane said: ‘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.’
The NHS data show referrals for prostate cancer plummeted by 60 per cent in April, but they are now improving.
But Prostate Cancer UK said there is still huge regional variation, with London seeing 46 per cent fewer referrals compared with 2019.
Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP who is backing the charity, said: ‘Earlier diagnosis of prostate cancer greatly improves your long-term outcomes, which is why I’m supporting Prostate Cancer UK’s campaign to encourage men to have these vital conversations with their GP.’
Hundreds of thousands of patients have had vital scans, tests, surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy delayed or cancelled during lockdown.
But NHS national cancer director Peter Johnson said ‘45,000 more people were referred for cancer treatment in June compared with the month before’.
He urged men over 50 or with a family history of prostate cancer to talk to their GP.
NHS boss Sir Simon Stevens has written to GP practices telling them to offer face-to-face appointments as well as video consultations to help boost cancer referrals.