How to check prostate cancer risk as NHS warns thousands could have missed diagnosis

The most common form of cancer in men in the UK is prostate cancer. Now the NHS is on the hunt for 14,000 patients who can be easily checked for the disease as concerns over missed diagnoses grow

A man talking to his GP
Prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease in UK men

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men in the UK, according to data from 2016-2018 by Cancer Research UK, and is a real concern in people over a certain age in particular.

Men are often encouraged to get tested but choose not to over fear of what they deem to be an embarrassing procedure.

The NHS is now warning that thousands could miss out on a diagnosis and is attempting to hunt down those who may have missed it.

Some 14,000 men in the UK are believed to be out there, undiagnosed, as new figures show that prostate cancer accounts for a third of cancers not treated due to the pandemic.

So why is the NHS looking for missing men and how can people check their prostate cancer risk?

What is my risk of prostate cancer?

Those with a family history, men over 50 and men of black and mixed ethnicity are at an increased risk


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One in every eight men gets prostate cancer and those over 50, with a family member who has had it, and black men, are at an increased risk.

As with any cancer, the earlier it is caught, the better chances of survival tend to be.

Prostate Cancer UK has an extremely useful risk checker for checking your own risk of prostate cancer and it depends heavily on a person’s age, ethnicity and family history.

For example, a white man aged 55-59 with a father or brother who has had prostate cancer is two-and-a-half times more likely to get the disease. Black men or mixed ethnicity men in the same category are even more at risk.

The charity said: “Having a family history of prostate cancer is another risk factor. You are two-and-a-half times more likely to get prostate cancer if your father or brother has had it.”

There is no guarantee any man, or non-binary person, will get prostate cancer, but they should know what to look out for and when to get tested.

The NHS, along with major celebrities like Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull – both of whom have had the diseases – is starting a campaign to get people checked.

More than 58,000 men in England have begun treatment for prostate cancer since April 2020 – 14,000 fewer than would have been expected for the period.

What are the signs of prostate cancer?

Stephen Fry caught his diagnosis from a routine check


Prostate Cancer UK)

There are symptoms of prostate cancer that people should look out for, such as needing to urinate frequently or having to rush to the toilet.

Other symptoms are as follows:

  • difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
  • straining or taking a long time while peeing
  • weak flow
  • feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
  • blood in urine or blood in semen

However, what is important is not relying on signs or symptoms, but knowing how at-risk you are and acting upon it regularly.

The NHS explained : “Prostate cancer does not usually cause any symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis (urethra).”

If you are a man more at risk due to your age, a family history or your ethnicity, you may have it without realising

Prostate Cancer UK said: “Early prostate cancer doesn’t normally have any signs. So don’t wait for symptoms if you want to talk to your GP about your risk of prostate cancer.”

Actor and comedy great Stephen Fry was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017 after a routine health check.

He said: “As you can imagine, I was pretty knocked back when I received a diagnosis of prostate cancer, particularly as I had no symptoms to indicate anything was wrong – something I later learned is very common. Thankfully it was caught early, making it more treatable.

“That’s why I’d urge you to check your risk and speak to your GP if you have any concerns, even if you feel completely well, as I did.”

How do tests for prostate cancer work?

A simple procedure may feel embarrassing, but it is routine and vital


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There are two main ways to check for prostate cancer work, one is known as a ‘prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test’ and the other is an examination of the prostate itself.

You should speak to your GP if you have concerns or know that you are coming up to an age where you are at risk of the disease.

After listening to you, the doctor may conduct routine tests such as general checks on your blood pressure, heart rate and temperature.

Then, should they feel it is required, they will conduct either a PSA or routine examination.

For the PSA tests, Cancer Research UK explained: “A high level of PSA can be a sign of cancer. But a high PSA can also be because of other conditions that aren’t cancer, or due to infection. A PSA test on its own doesn’t normally diagnose prostate cancer.”

It is the routine examination that men can often feel worried or embarrassed about, as the doctor is required to put a gloved finger into the rectum to feel if the prostate is enlarged.

It is a few seconds of discomfort that may save a man a whole lot of time in the future.

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