Bill Turnbull speaks out on prostate cancer as he issues desperate plea

Late diagnoses, an ageing population and too many men seeing their disease return are driving the rise, the charity Prostate Cancer UK said. 

Estimates suggest it will overtake breast disease to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer by the end of this decade. 

Former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull, who was diagnosed in 2017, is leading calls for renewed momentum to tackle the disease.

He said: “As someone whose prostate cancer was diagnosed once it had spread, I’m all too aware of how important it is that we find ways to improve diagnosis and treatment so that lives are not cut short.” 

Latest UK figures show the number of men who lost their lives to prostate cancer reached 12,031 in 2017. This was up from 11,637 the year before and 11,307 in 2014. 

However, patients diagnosed today have a better chance of survival than 10 years ago. And NHS England wants three-quarters of cancers to be diagnosed at an early stage by 2028. 

Currently just 47 percent of prostate cancers are diagnosed early, when treatment is more likely to be successful. More than one in five cases are diagnosed at stage four, when it is usually incurable. 

Bill, 63, who is an ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK, revealed in March 2018 he had been diagnosed with an incurable form of the disease the previous November, and that it had already spread to his bones. 

He had nine rounds of chemotherapy, followed by hormone injections to strengthen his bones. 

He said: “In the two years since I went public with my illness, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many brilliant people who are doing their bit to fight prostate cancer. 

“From researchers to health professionals, fundraisers and volunteers, it’s been hugely inspiring. 

“However, more still needs to be done. If everyone across the country does one thing to support Prostate Cancer UK this year, then we can make a huge impact.”

Bill was one of 48,561 men to be diagnosed in 2017, up from 48,523 the year before and 47,864 in 2014. 

Prostate Cancer UK’s research plans include finding better diagnostic tests that could form the basis for a national screening programme. 

It is also funding research to improve the effectiveness of treatments for localised prostate cancer, so fewer men see their cancer return.The charity is asking the public to pledge their support and take action to help this year. 

It also wants the Government and health providers to uphold previous funding commitments to give the disease the focus it deserves. 

Chief executive Angela Culhane said: “By 2030, prostate cancer is set to be the most commonly diagnosed of all cancers in the UK. 

“Before we reach this point, we absolutely must ensure that as many of these men as possible have their prostate cancer caught early and successfully treated.” 

Rebecca Porta, chief executive of the Orchid Cancer Appeal charity, said: “We urgently need to see more emphasis on improving awareness of risk factors and symptoms of prostate cancer amongst men and GPs.” 

Amy Hirst, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “We’re working on finding more accurate ways to diagnose prostate cancer, giving us the best chance of saving those with aggressive disease, whilst minimising harm to others.”

Tony Collier is one of about 8,500 men in England told every year that their prostate cancer is incurable because it is too advanced. 

After visiting his GP two years ago with groin pain, he was horrified when an urologist said he may have had the disease for a decade. 

It had spread throughout much of his skeleton, causing stress fractures in his weakened bones. 

Tony, 62, said: “They told me I might only have two years to live. It was very shocking. 

“To be told you have cancer is devastating but when I found out it was incurable, it was absolutely indescribable. 

“You go to that horrible dark place. 

“At the time my grandson Ethan was aged four. 

“The reality was that I was never going to see him become a teenager. All those dark thoughts go through your mind.” 

Tony lives in Altrincham, Manchester, with wife Tracey, who he calls the “family rock”. He has semi-retired from his job in accounting to spend more time with his family. 

Tony, who is on hormone therapy to keep his cancer stable, takes the drug abiraterone to stop his body producing testosterone. This prevents prostate cancer cells from growing. 

A keen runner, Tony stays fit and still goes out three or four times a week. But he says he has struggled with the impact of cancer. 

He says: “Thankfully treatments are improving and that’s what’s keeping me alive. But there’s not one aspect of my life that hasn’t been impacted. I’ve been totally emasculated as a man and as an athlete.” 

Tony has two grandchildren, now aged six and 18 months. He wants a screening programme to be established as quickly as possible to reduce the number of men diagnosed too late. 

He said: “We are so desperate for a screening test that is robust. Early diagnosis means curative treatment. 

“If I had had that every year from age 50, I would have been diagnosed at a point where I could have been cured, instead of when it was too late. 

“The big concern is that the risk for my son and grandsons is two and a half times greater because of my diagnosis. 

“They need to be screened at an earlier age.”

Martin Wells was diagnosed with localised prostate cancer in 2007, despite having no obvious symptoms. 

He underwent surgery to remove the gland, followed by radiotherapy and hormone suppression. 

Although the initial treatment worked, just over a year ago he received the devastating news that his cancer had “reawoken” in his hip bones. He was told it is now incurable and started chemotherapy and hormone therapy to prolong his life. 

Martin, 66, describes the hormone treatment as “chemical castration”. 

He has struggled with serious side-effects including erectile dysfunction, hair loss from the chemotherapy and weight gain. 

He is now on a mission to encourage men to speak more openly about their health. 

He said: “Being a man gets in the way of being a man with prostate cancer. The side-effects are sexual and urological and men don’t want to talk about that, we use humour to distract from it. 

“But it’s not healthy. I do want to talk about it. It’s like having a big stone in your shoe – I need to get it out.” Martin, of Burnley, hopes that eventually treatments such as cutting-edge immunotherapy will be available. 

He also believes improving early diagnosis is vital because “the sooner it gets diagnosed the more effective the treatment”. 

He added: “That doesn’t mean that if everyone gets diagnosed early, everyone is cured. But people have a far better chance of the best treatment.”

COMMENT by David Montgomery, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK 

Despite advances in diagnosis, treatments and greater awareness of prostate cancer in recent years, the news that more than 12,000 UK men die each year from the disease highlights how much more needs to be done. 

We have made some progress. Overall, the number diagnosed has risen faster than the number dying. 

So more people diagnosed today will survive than would have 10 years ago. 

As a charity, we have contributed to this improvement in the survival rate. 

We have funded research into mpMRI scanning, which has transformed the accuracy of diagnosis and helped to avoid unnecessary biopsies. 

Prostate Cancer UK has also funded research to introduce new treatment regimes, such as earlier docetaxel chemo, which extends victims’ lives. We have funded research into greater understanding of the development of the disease. 

But we have a large mountain to climb before we can say we have reversed the trend of more men dying from prostate cancer. 

That’s why we want to see renewed effort from the Government, healthcare providers and supporters to keep up the momentum and help us tackle the late diagnosis and cancer recurrence which we believe are the root causes of this issue. 

We are setting out our ambitious new research strategy to help discover better diagnosis, better treatments and a better use of data. 

But to achieve these aims, we are calling on people to help us raise vital funds.

• For more information, on how to help, visit: prostatecanceruk.org

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