We don’t have a men’s health strategy in this country, but we should. I refer to the excellent work done by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Men and Boys’ Issues, which I have the honor of chairing.
To date, we have released two reports that show the need for a men’s health strategy, which would provide a comprehensive and joint plan to end the age gender gap.
This is desperately needed in the UK, where one in five men will die before retirement. A man commits suicide every two hours and 86% of the homeless are men. About 95 percent of inmates are men and 97 percent of work fatalities are men. These are appalling statistics.
Far worse than the dire numbers is the sobering fact that 30 men die of prostate cancer every day, which is 11,900 deaths per year.
Let me explain what these numbers mean. There are 430 male MPs in the House of Commons, out of a total of 650 MPs. Some 16.7% of all men will get prostate cancer, meaning 71 male MPs in the House will have it. That’s over 11% of all Members — more than one in 10 of us. Many deaths could be avoided if we had a prostate screening program.
Until now, the NHS was of the opinion that screening for prostate cancer would not meet established national and international criteria for a viable and worthwhile screening programme. Instead, the NHS is adopting a wait-and-see policy.
However, medical science has advanced and historical objections are no longer valid.
Data shows that the age of 50 and above is the danger zone for men. Only four in 100,000 cases of prostate cancer occur in men between the ages of 40 and 44, but that figure rises to 6,285 in men between the ages of 60 and 64. Men between 50 and 80 are most at risk.
The data undoubtedly shows that an African man is twice as likely as a Caucasian man to get prostate cancer. Research from 1995 showed a 44% drop in mortality over 14 years when screening takes place, and another trial showed a 21% reduction. Whatever figure we take, that’s a staggering number of lives that could have been saved – 2,000 or more lives every year.
The problem has been the effectiveness of screening and its cost, but medical science has moved on. A simple prostate specific antigen blood test is inexpensive, literally costs pennies, and it will help identify a high number of antigens so we know who is most at risk.
These men can then be monitored and retested after an additional three months. Relatively few men who still have high antigen counts can then have an MRI to confirm beyond doubt whether or not they have prostate cancer. Those who are diagnosed can then be treated, thousands of lives will be saved and thousands of lives will be longer and will be quality lives.
Does screening work? The current breast cancer screening program is believed to save 1,300 lives a year. Approximately 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and 690 women die from it each year. It is estimated that 83% of cervical cancer cases would be prevented if all women used the cervical cancer screening program. Screening works well for breast cancer and cervical cancer. It is proven to work. So why don’t we have a prostate cancer screening program?
Setting up a screening program for prostate cancer would obviously benefit the men affected, but it would also benefit their family, friends and the country in general.
Early diagnosis will save the economy money, as it will allow those affected to continue working rather than being dependent on the welfare state. This saves the NHS money by avoiding expensive treatments that would be needed for advanced cancer.
Wives will not lose their husbands, children will not lose their fathers, and friends and other loved ones will not be emotionally scarred with grief.
I have two questions: can we seriously consider implementing both a national prostate screening program and a men’s health strategy? These initiatives will save money, but more importantly, they will save lives.
Nick Fletcher is the Conservative MP for Don Valley who spoke during a parliamentary debate on prostate cancer – this is an edited version.
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