Prostate cancer messaging may hinder early detection, scientists warn Science and technology news


Public health communications surrounding prostate cancer place a misleading focus on urinary tract symptoms and can hamper early detection efforts, scientists warn.

Cambridge University researchers said there was “no evidence of a causal relationship between prostate cancer and either prostate size or troublesome male urinary symptoms”.

However, public health services regularly promote this link, with increased urination topping the list of prostate cancer symptoms listed on the NHS website.

In a review published in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers argue that the “strong public perception” of male urinary tract symptoms is a key predictor of prostate cancer and “could seriously hamper efforts to encourage early presentation.”

“If the rate of earlier diagnosis is to improve, we call for a clear message that prostate cancer is a silent disease, particularly in the curable stages, and men should come forward for testing whether they have symptoms or not,” it said in the paper.

“This should be done in parallel with other ongoing awareness-raising efforts, including targeting men at highest risk because of their racial or family history.”

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men. According to Cancer Research UK, more than 52,000 men are diagnosed with it each year and there are more than 12,000 deaths.

More than three-quarters (78%) of men diagnosed with the disease survive beyond 10 years, but this proportion has changed little over the past decade in the UK – largely because the disease was diagnosed at a relatively late age stage is recognized.

In England, almost half of all prostate cancers are detected at stage three in four.

Vincent Gnanapragasam, Professor of Urology at Cambridge University, said: “When most people think of the symptoms of prostate cancer, they think of problems with urination or needing to pee more often, especially at night.

“This misperception has persisted for decades despite very little evidence, potentially preventing us from picking up cases at an early stage.”

While enlarged prostate can cause the urinary problems often featured in public health news, this suggests it’s relatively uncommon due to malignant prostate tumors, the researchers said.

Instead, research suggests that the prostate is smaller in prostate cancer.

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