Managing prostate cancer diagnoses during COVID-19
If prostate cancer is diagnosed early, and appropriate treatment carried out when it is localised, it is curable. The 5-year survival rate for men diagnosed with local or regional disease is almost 100%.
The 5-year survival rate for men diagnosed with metastatic disease drops to 50%. [iii]
GPs are critical to achieving earlier diagnosis
The natural history of prostate cancer involves a period of latency in the early stages during which the disease is asymptomatic. A positive preventative approach to care is therefore needed in order to identify individuals who will benefit from investigation at this early stage.
Many prostate cancer diagnoses are a result of an opportunistic approach to early prostate cancer diagnosis. However, if preventative care is just seen as a possible “add-on” – if or when a patient presents, an enormous opportunity is being missed to address a disease from which one man dies every 45 minutes in the UK- that’s more than 11,500 men every year.
For one thing, men who are most at risk of the disease may be the least likely to visit their GP. This includes older men who may be particularly nervous about contacting their GPs due to Covid-19 and black men whose lifetime risk of being diagnosed is double that of other men.[iv] Men with a family history of the disease also have two and a half times higher risk and would also[LW1] benefit from having a conversation with their GP from the age of 50.[AR2] [Z3]
By adopting a systematic approach, proactively recalling men at high risk or who have difficulty accessing services, health disparities can be addressed and overall mortality from prostate cancer can be driven down.
Thousands of missed prostate cancer diagnoses as a result of COVID-19
There has been a pause in cancer related care during the pandemic. Diagnostic pathways have been severely disrupted and referrals for suspected prostate cancer have dropped by 57%. We need to reverse the negative impact of COVID-19 on prostate cancer diagnosis [Z4] and that’s why in September we’re sharing an online risk check to support the third phase of the NHS response to COVID-19.
The pandemic has caused practices to focus on improving health care messaging to their patients. And patients have come to expect important communication with their GPs via text, email or by post.
With this in mind, there is a real opportunity to capitalise on the new networking capability, the efficiencies gained in terms of remote consulting and the reduced barriers to accessing health care this affords, to target men who would likely benefit from proactive preventative care, equipping them to collaborate in their care and improve health outcomes.
Supporting health professionals to manage prostate disease
We're continuing our work to support health professionals and have been developing resources for those who are managing prostate disease during COVID-19, find out more. Our Specialist Nurses are also here to support your patients and their families, and are available via telephone, email and live chat online to respond to any queries or concerns. Find out more about our Specialist Nurses services.
[i] Cancer Research UK, https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/prostate-cancer, Accessed August. 2020
[ii] Prostate Cancer (ICD-10 C61), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates, by Age, Males, UK, 1993-2017
[iii] Office of National Statistics. Cancer Survival in England for men diagnosed between 2013-2017 and followed up in 2018. No UK wide figures are available. Accessed February, 2020.
[iv] Prostate Cancer UK https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/are-you-at-risk Accessed August, 2020