Prioritising Cancer Referrals in the New Year

For many men, the turn of the year marks the time to make positive changes to their lifestyle – typically including to stop smoking; reduce or cut out alcohol; and take more regular exercise. While these are all completely laudable goals to set, there is a call to be made for taking a slightly different look at men’s health and a resolution that could be made that would have the potential of saving lives and improving health outcomes – the prostate cancer PSA test.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. There is no formal screening programme. Early diagnosis is proven to significantly expand the range of treatment options – which in turn gives men more choice and the chance to have the treatment that best suits their lifestyle. Moreover, with advances being made in both treatment and diagnosis, the long term health outcomes are today looking better than ever.

During 2021, we continued to see the impact that the efforts of celebrity men like Allan Lamb had in raising awareness of prostate cancer and getting checked. However, this is counteracted by the pandemic, which has made people wary of presenting themselves to their GP with perhaps only minimal symptoms, as is often the case with prostate cancer.

Indeed, with news that urgent referrals for suspected urological cancer were 31% down between March – September 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, equating to 42,000 fewer people; and that 4.4 million fewer cancer scans were carried out during the same comparative period, it’s clear that many patients are not being diagnosed and are therefore likely to develop more aggressive, later stage cancer. This is backed up by professional bodies and Cancer Research UK, who say the period of inactivity has left a backlog that could leave a swathe of people presenting at hospital in a worsened condition.

The NHS long-term plan places priority on speeding up cancer diagnosis with the aim of improving health outcomes and overall survival. It also emphasises the need for a ‘more concerted and systematic approach to reducing health inequalities’. Giving patients control over their choice is key: as more men receive better and earlier diagnoses, their treatment options increase. 

Today, no man should have to die from prostate cancer. With the right encouragement to get themselves checked; early referrals for those potentially at risk; and access to superior biopsy techniques that can now be performed under local anaesthetic in an outpatient setting, prostate cancer is treatable and survivable.

It’s time to prioritise cancer referrals, diagnosis and treatment. 

– Saheed Rashid, Managing Director, BXTA