Expert says up to 10,000 men a year at low risk of the disease in the UK get no benefit from treatment
An international cancer specialist has devised a novel way of reducing the burden from one of Britain’s fastest rising malignant diseases: diagnose it less. Chris Parker, a world authority on prostate cancer at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital, says that the diagnosis does more harm than good in many men.
Prostate cancer cases have tripled since the 1970s and the annual “toll” of 40,000 cases diagnosed in the UK could be cut by more than 10,000, he says.
Advances in understanding of the disease during the past decade have enabled doctors to distinguish men with high-risk, aggressive disease, which needs treatment, from those with low-risk, slow-growing disease, which does not. Low-risk men are more likely to die with the cancer, as a result of some other cause, than from it.
But that means they gain no benefit by being diagnosed – and suffer harm because they live for the rest of their lives under the shadow of cancer.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Parker says: “The standard of care for low-risk prostate cancer should be watchful waiting [regular monitoring], which raises an important question: if low-risk prostate cancer does not need treatment, then does it need to be diagnosed at all? In future, we need to focus on avoiding not just the treatment, but also the diagnosis of low-risk disease.”