More funding needed to fight prostate cancer say experts
Prostate cancer continues to receive less funding than other major cancers according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA).
Dr Peter Heathcote, Chairman of the PCFA's medical advisory committee, told The Australian newspaper that there are stark inequalities in funding between prostrate and other major cancers like breast cancer.
"The disease tends to be less prominent in the public mind. This carries across industry and policy measures, where less funding is allocated to prostate cancer, fewer researchers are funded to take it on, and the cycle then repeats itself," he said.
Prostate cancer facts
According to the latest statistics from Cancer Australia:
- More than 24,000 men are diagnosed with cancer each year
- This accounts for more than 1 in 4 new male cancer cases diagnosed in 2022
- More than 3,500 men are estimated to have died from prostate cancer in 2022
- This accounts for around 1 in 8 male deaths from cancer
According to the PCFA, there are around 240,000 men living with prostate cancer in Australia. This number is expected to rise to 372,000 by 2040 and steeper rises in aggressive cases are expected.
PCFA is keen to increase awareness of the risk of prostate cancer in younger men, as around 10 men a day who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are aged 50 and under.
PCFA's chief executive Ann Savage told The Australian:
“We still have a long way to go to overcome the misperceptions that prostate cancer is an old man's disease, that men die with it not from it.”
Can health policy protect men from prostate cancer?
There is currently a high survival rate for prostate cancer, with 96% of those diagnosed surviving at least five years.
Early diagnosis is one of the keys to survival although guidelines on testing for prostate cancer are not straightforward as testing carries both benefits and harms. According to PCFA, 75% of men in Australia are unaware of the testing guidelines.
According to Dr Heathcote, greater awareness and education is required as many men have no symptoms at the point of diagnosis. This needs to be combined with more proactive risk assessment, to identify and reach those men who are at highest risk, said Dr Heathcote.
Having a family history of prostate cancer is one of the key risk factors. It is estimated that men who have a father or one brother who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer have 2.5- 3 times higher than average risk of developing the disease. For men who have a father and two or more brothers with a prostate cancer diagnose, the risk is 9 to 10 times higher.
PCFA estimates that 630,000 Australian men are at risk of prostate cancer because of family history but are potentially unaware of this fact.
Some research has also found that while Aboriginal and Torres Islander males are not at increased risk of getting the disease, they are 50% more likely to die from prostate cancer.
Government funding needed to inform men
Ms Savage said we urgently need to talk to more men about prostate cancer.
“Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, and yet we have never had a publicly funded community-wide awareness campaign targeting men at risk of prostate cancer,” she said. Reminding men to get tested “could easily be done cost effectively” by integrating reminders into routine GP check-ups and via MyGov’s My Health Record, she added.
Dr Heathcote said that targeting awareness, education and risk-assessed testing at men in rural and remote communities would offer the best “bang for your buck”.
“A majority of Australian men do not know the PSA test guidelines and may not know that their family history of the disease places them at an increased risk of a potentially aggressive diagnosis at a younger age,” he said.
“The fact is that low awareness levels impede early detection and diminish men’s survival prospects. If we can diagnose all men at the earliest stage and ensure they have access to new medicines and care, we can beat this disease. For men with a family history of disease, we need to give much clearer guidance about their risks and screening options.”
The PCFA is currently undergoing a review of their PSA testing guidelines, the most recent guidelines can be downloaded here.
Prostate cancer rates could double over next five years (The Australian) [paywall]