Thursday, 13 February 2014

I've got a new home!

Those of you who've come to my blog from the Prostate Cancer UK website will have already seen that my blog has moved. To keep up with my updates - and find out more about all the latest news in our fight against prostate cancer - please visit my new blog.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Why Sir Stephen Bubb's latest blog is so important

Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) writes today in the Guardian about his experience of being diagnosed with and subsequently treated for prostate cancer. Stephen and I have been talking throughout the year and thankfully he’s responded positively to treatment and is back in good health.  It takes guts to stand up and talk about being diagnosed and treated with any cancer, and I applaud Stephen’s effort in writing this blog post and sticking his neck out.

Although Stephen spends a lot of his working life working with cancer charities, he still found the decision regarding what treatment to go for difficult to make. His story, of getting differing advice following diagnosis is one I hear from many men who receive the news they have prostate cancer. If you’ve never experienced any major medical treatment (and good luck to you), you may think that following such a diagnosis, the options you will be presented with will be clear cut. As Stephen’s blog illustrates, that’s rarely the case. Go for surgical removal of the prostate and risk side effects that include erectile dysfunction and incontinence (this isn’t a family blog and it’s part of my remit to be as open as possible); undergo active surveillance and fancy the uncertainty of what can feel like inaction, or go for a form of radiotherapy? Ultimately, it’ll be your choice.

The only way to be able to make the best choice for treatment – and this is true of whether or not to get a PSA test too – is to be informed. Knowing the risks and the benefits of diagnostic tests and treatments options will always make the decision easier and feel less like taking your turn at the lucky dip. At Prostate Cancer UK we provide a wealth of practical, evidenced and unbiased information leaflets and other publications on all aspects of prostate disease. We also run a confidential helpline staffed by Specialist Nurses who can provide answers to all your questions. If you (or your partner) are going through any part of the journey that Stephen describes, and have unanswered questions, or simply want a little bit of support, please do get in touch.

As it’s only 13 days into Movember, I don’t have too much to show in terms of my Mo, but I would like to echo Stephen’s sentiment and thank the hundreds of thousands of Mo-bros and Mo-sistas who are raising funds for men’s health this year. You can read more about how we’re spending the money from the Movember Foundation on cutting edge research and support here

Monday, 21 October 2013

A shocking statistic for men

To paraphrase Orwell ‘All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others’. This statement rings true no more so than with prostate cancer and men in the UK.

We’ve known for a long time that prostate cancer is more likely to strike black* men than those of other ethnicities, but the figure that our Evidence team at Prostate Cancer UK recently unearthed is truly staggering. 1 in 4 black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. That’s double the overall figure of 1 in 8 for all men in the UK. Double.

You almost certainly saw the coverage we got in the media when we launched our campaign to highlight this issue, with coverage in the Daily Mail, The Times and The afro news. Although this is a great start, as an organisation we’ve never been about just shouting at the ether. We’re going to tackle this problem ourselves.

Following this awareness campaign, we’re launching an ambitious programme of research, and community engagement within the black community to specifically address this bias towards black men. We’re going to 

Increase our knowledge 
We want to further our understanding of prostate cancer within the black community through better research and data collection. 

Raise understanding and empower more men 
Increase community understanding and empower men in the black community to take control of their health. 

Strengthen our bonds 
Build on our links and communication with leaders within the black community to strengthen our partnerships.

Working together we can help highlight this inequality, work towards a solution and raise the profile of prostate cancer across the UK. All men deserve better.

* When we say black men, we mean men who describe themselves as Black African, Black Caribbean or Black other. This doesn’t include men who describe themselves as Black mixed – we don’t have enough data on this group.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Omega-3 fatty acids and an increased risk of prostate cancer? It all sounds a bit fishy.

There’ve been a number of stories in the papers recently concerning use of Omega-3 supplements increasing the risk of prostate cancer by as much as 70 per cent. We fully support all research that might bring us closer to identifying a cause for prostate cancer – especially since that will likely lead us towards better diagnosis and treatment – but it is important to get the facts straight.

The authors of the study that started these headlines found an association between men with prostate cancer and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood – fatty acid levels were generally higher in men with prostate cancer than those in the comparison group. This does not mean that high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids must therefore be the cause or indeed increase the risk of prostate cancer. I have a tennis racket sitting in my shed at home, but this doesn’t make me Andy Murray.

The finding that led to this figure of 70 per cent was that men with aggressive prostate cancer were 1.7 times more likely to have high levels of fatty acid in their blood than they were to have low levels. As all the men already had prostate cancer, this doesn’t tell us whether this association had anything to do with the men’s risk of getting cancer, or that high Omega-3 levels cause cancer. This is leap one into the unknown.

Leap two: surprisingly, especially given the media frenzy it has led to, this research never mentions Omega-3 consumption at all. We don’t know whether the men involved were taking Omega-3 supplements, or had a diet high (or even low) in oily fish. All we know is that they had high levels of fatty acids in their blood. Since we can’t tell what caused the prostate cancer in these men, we would need further trials using a valid and unbiased measurement of dietary intake to draw a reliable conclusion about any risk of prostate cancer associated with Omega-3 consumption. Although admittedly that doesn’t make such a great headline.

What’s really great about this story (although probably not what the authors intended to get from it) is how many people are now talking about prostate cancer. Although the headlines have caused a lot of worry and confusion, people in the Prostate Cancer UK online community and other prostate cancer forums are really trying to make their own minds up about this, and are sharing their thoughts and experiences.

Current research suggests there are actually a number of health benefits derived from Omega-3 fatty acids, including reduced risk of heart disease and relief for people with rheumatoid arthritis, but really the best advice when it comes to nutrition is to eat a healthy balanced diet and stay active. And not to believe everything you read in the papers.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Why our 1,200 volunteers make all the difference.

The man I spoke to knew exactly how I was feeling. Talking to someone who had been through treatment and was doing well took some of the fear away” – feedback from our Peer Support service

At Prostate Cancer UK, we recognise the importance of volunteers. Without them, our Peer Support Services would not exist. Our campaigning work to raise the profile of prostate cancer in the UK would be hobbled. Successes with key partners like the Football League and Royal Mail would be much harder. Put simply, volunteers are the glue that holds us together and help us help more men with prostate cancer.

The 1st of June marks the beginning of Volunteers’ Week, even though seven days seems like a very small amount of time to celebrate the millions of hours these men and women give to causes in the UK every single year. At Prostate Cancer UK, we simply couldn’t do without the help of people like Jean Herd. Jean has been volunteering for us since 2008. She has campaigned at our Day of Action in Westminster; shook buckets with her family to raise money at Sheffield United on a freezing January afternoon; helped provide telephone Peer Support for partners of men diagnosed with prostate cancer; given talks about prostate cancer, and shared her experience of the disease at our health professional education events. She’s miraculous. 

Jean Herd and her husband Chris in one of our information films
What’s even more impressive is that Jean is just one of the 1,200 volunteers working with us throughout the UK, that’s nearly ten times the number of staff we employ. As a charity, we are growing to ensure we meet the needs of men across the UK and are in a position to get and keep men’s health on the agenda. Our volunteers are and always will be a major part of our strategy for doing this and we are always on the look out for dedicated men and women like Jean to help. We are particularly keen for men and women who would be happy to talk about their experiences of prostate cancer to help spread the word and become one of our Volunteer Speakers. If you have a spare hour here and there – and think you could help – please get in contact with our volunteer team.

For their fundraising and their support, for sharing their knowledge and experience and raising awareness of prostate cancer, I would like to thank all of our volunteers for their help. We couldn’t do it without you. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

BRCA2 and the good news that got lost in the headlines

This weekend the papers reported that a man – who carried the faulty BRCA2 gene – had undergone surgery to remove his prostate as a form of preventative treatment for prostate cancer. The articles published in the Sunday Times and Daily Mail – which follows the news that Angelina Jolie had preventative surgery for breast cancer – stated this man was the first in the world to go through such a procedure.

Strictly speaking, and although it ruins a good news story, this is not true. This gentleman had early signs of malignancy in his biopsy results, so wasn’t cancer free. He used the information that he carried the BRCA2 gene as a decision maker to choose which treatment to have. The world is still to see a preventative prostatectomy, and with the evidence as it stands, I hope it stays that way.

There is currently little (if any) information or research on the effect of preventative prostatectomy for prostate cancer and we don’t know enough about the clinical outcomes. Removal of the prostate can lead to serious (and long term) side effects, including erectile dysfunction and incontinence. Put simply, there’s no data whatsoever on whether carrying out this surgery will improve survival rates or men’s quality of life. It’s also worth remembering that many men develop prostate cancer because of other factors other than carrying the BRCA2 gene. In fact, only five to 10 per cent of prostate cancers are thought to be strongly linked to inherited risk.

Last month I wrote about new research from the ICR that linked BRCA2 with aggressive prostate cancer and the need for treatment. It was through taking part in a similar study that the man in question found out he carried this faulty gene. This research is important and could lead to advances that help men with prostate cancer, but not through preventative surgery at this stage.

Through all this discussion around preventative surgery, it’s easy for the good news to get lost: identifying the link between the BRCA2 gene and aggressive prostate cancer is a great step forward for men’s health. In the short term, we can offer men with this faulty gene genetic counselling and frequently screen them for any sign of prostate cancer. In the long term, and with further research, we could be in the position to tell aggressive from non-aggressive prostate cancer in a simple and effective way. Now there’s a newsworthy story.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Singing from the same hymn sheet

Last June we made a bid to become Royal Mail’s charity partner, and won. Royal Mail was an obvious choice for us – a national company that is part of everyone’s daily life and which employs a lot of men. You couldn’t design a better charity partner for Prostate Cancer UK if you tried.
The Royal Mail Group has already raised £800,000 to help us beat prostate cancer, which is a phenomenal amount of money. From growing Mos for Movember and crazy cycling challenges, to supporting our awareness campaign by obliterating walnuts, the Royal Mail has taken our cause to heart and jumped straight into the thick of raising money and awareness.
The latest in the series of first-class (sorry) fundraising initiatives by Royal Mail is this stirring rendition of the famous hymn ‘Abide with Me’. X-Factor winner Joe McElderry, and the Royal Mail Choir, have teamed up to record the single to raise funds and awareness for Prostate Cancer UK. I think you’ll agree it’s pretty special.

You can download this single now from Amazon and iTunes for 99p. For every download Royal Mail is donating an extra £1 to the charity, so I’d urge you to buy it.
Huge thanks must go to the men and women in the Royal Mail Choir who managed to fit in time around their normal jobs to practice and put this track together. Thanks also to Joe McElderry for taking time out from his busy schedule to record and promote Abide with Me to help men across the UK get a better deal.
Our partnership with Royal Mail is already having an impact in local communities. The money they have raised has funded the creation of four specialist prostate cancer nurse roles based around the UK. These nurses provide much needed local support to men affected by prostate cancer, and the money raised by Abide with Me will help us fund more nurses to reach more men in their own communities. So next time you open your door to your local postman or postwoman, give them a pat on the back and a thank you from all of us at Prostate Cancer UK.