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COVID-19 cuts prostate cancer referrals in half, as appointments dwindle

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A PSA test should be encouraged A PSA test should be encouraged if men are in a higher-risk group

Urgent referrals for urological cancers have dropped by half in England compared to the same period last year, according to research by Prostate Cancer UK.

With urgent referrals at their lowest levels in 10 years, the charity estimates that there have been 27,000 fewer patients referred than expected since the UK lockdown period began in March this year. This puts as many as 3500 men with higher-risk cancers at risk of being diagnosed too late to be cured unless referrals go back up to pre-pandemic levels.

‘Earlier this year, we announced that prostate cancer had become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, thanks largely to a greater awareness of the disease in recent years’ said Angela Culhane, Chief Executive at Prostate Cancer UK.

‘Detecting prostate cancer earlier helps save lives, but COVID-19 has made it harder for men to visit their doctor this year – especially if they don’t feel unwell or have no symptoms. As a result, we estimate there could be 3,500 men in England with a higher-risk prostate cancer which has not yet been diagnosed.’

Culhane fears that without prompt action now, men may end up presenting when the disease has advanced and is more difficult to treat.‘Most men with early prostate cancer don’t have any symptoms, so it’s important not to wait until you notice something’s wrong. If men are at increased risk because they’re over 50, if they’re black, or if their dad or brother had it, they should call their GP to ask about the pros and cons of a PSA blood test. We’re encouraging everyone to share our 30-second risk checker to help find these men that have missed out on a diagnosis,’ she said.

The charity is encouraging all men at increased risk of prostate cancer to contact their GP to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a PSA blood test, which can give them an indication of any problems with their prostate. This includes men over 50, particularly black men, and those with a family history of the disease. As most men do not experience any symptoms until the disease has spread and become incurable, it is critical that men with these risk factors take action.

‘It’s hugely concerning to see such a significant drop of around 27,000 urgent urological referrals over the last few months. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made many men less likely to speak to their GP about their prostate cancer risk, especially when they don’t have symptoms,’ said Dr Richard Roope, a GP in Hampshire.

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