COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer across the UK and the repercussions are likely to continue for some time to come.
Before the pandemic hit, diagnoses had been rising in the UK for many years.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the disease had become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK – a decade earlier than previously predicted.
When combined, the total number of prostate cancer diagnoses for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reached 57,192 in 2018, exceeding those of breast, lung and bowel cancers.
This surge in cases is likely to be the direct result of their huge increase in awareness of prostate cancer, fuelled, in part, by campaigns like Movember, as well as high-profile individuals such as Bill Turnbull and Stephen Fry sharing their experience of the disease in the same year.
As services begin to return to normal, it is vital that anyone with concerns about their prostate cancer risk, particularly if they are having symptoms such as difficulty urinating or blood in urine or semen, seek medical advice.
Mass awareness has helped identify more cases of prostate cancer, earlier on
Finding prostate cancer early followed by swift access to the most effective treatment, offers the best chance of survival for most men.
However, during lockdown, it was even harder than normal for some men to get the tests and treatment they needed. In some parts of the country, diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer stopped altogether, causing a great deal of anxiety for men and their families.
The number of people being urgently referred for suspected cancers (of all types) dropped by around 75% at the peak of the outbreak, meaning fewer patients being referred for diagnostic tests and specialist consultations.
Although the situation is now improving, there are still fewer people than usual coming forward with potential symptoms. Meanwhile, the backlog of patients requiring diagnostics tests continues to build.
COVID-19 has discouraged many men from seeing their GP
Fear of catching COVID-19 (or worries about bothering their GP) has meant many men have not had conversations with their doctor about their prostate cancer risk. We’re worried this could mean many men have their prostate cancer diagnosed too late – when it is more difficult to treat.
As services begin to return to normal, it is vital that anyone with concerns about their prostate cancer risk, particularly if they are having symptoms such as difficulty urinating or blood in urine or semen, seek medical advice. Men who are most at risk are those aged 50 and over, black men and men with a family history of the disease.
The huge rate of progress in scientific research into new tests and treatments for prostate cancer means that a man diagnosed today has a better chance of survival than someone diagnosed 20 years ago. However, the pandemic has meant that lifesaving prostate cancer research around the world has ground to a halt and we urgently need to help get that research back on track.
With the support of our passionate and dedicated Mo community, we will keep fighting so that men can enjoy the longer, healthier and happier lives they deserve.