Prostate cancer death rates in the UK have fallen by a fifth in the last two decades thanks to earlier diagnosis and better treatment, experts say.
In the early 1990s, when prostate cancer mortality was at its peak, around 30 British men in every 100,000 died from the disease each year.
Since then, that figure has dropped to an estimated 24 deaths per 100,000, according to a new report from the charity Cancer Research UK.
The downward trend is said to be largely due to new treatment approaches, such as earlier and more widespread use of hormone therapy, surgery and radiotherapy.
Earlier diagnosis of aggressive cancers through PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood tests in GP surgeries is also believed to have played a role.
Cancer Research UK’s prostate cancer expert Professor Malcolm Mason said: “This new report shows we’ve come a long way in improving the treatment of prostate cancer in the last couple of decades. And improvements in how we treat prostate cancer have been key to reducing deaths from the disease. But a lot more work still needs to be done.
“We still don’t understand why some prostate cancers turn out be harmless - the grass snakes - while others are aggressive - the vipers - and resistant to treatment. Developing a test that distinguishes between these grass snakes and vipers in prostate cancer patients would help doctors understand which patients are most at risk.”
Each year around 41,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK and around 11,000 die from the disease.
Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse, said: “The symptoms for prostate cancer are similar to a number of benign and harmless conditions but it’s worth being aware of them and getting anything unusual checked out with your GP. Things such as having to rush to the toilet to pass urine and difficulty urinating should be checked out, especially if it’s getting you up several times during the night.
“It’s also worth remembering prostate cancer is more common in men over the age of 60, anyone who has had a relative diagnosed with the disease and men of African-Caribbean descent. If you’re worried about prostate cancer or have any questions about this or other cancer-related issues, you can contact the nurse’s helpline on freephone 0808 800 4040.”
The charity’s chief clinician Professor Peter Johnson said: “We now have more prostate cancer trials and more research programmes happening than ever before. We have also been working especially hard to decode the genetic changes in prostate cancer, which holds great promise for the future. But we can still do more - we need a better screening test, better diagnostics, better treatments - and research is the answer to this challenge.”
Owen Sharp, chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK, said: “While on the surface death rates from prostate cancer are falling, this data shows that in real terms more men died of prostate cancer last year than they did 20 years ago.
“Although on average more men are surviving cancer for longer, 10,000 men still die each year of the disease - that’s a shocking one man every hour.
“Men deserve much better. The raw truth is that there are simply too few options for men with advanced prostate cancer and even life-saving treatments for less aggressive cancers can have life-changing side-effects.”