17 Mar 2022

Clinical Negligence

Prostate cancer – knowing the signs and risks

Throughout March, people in the UK are being urged to take part in ‘March the Month’, a virtual step challenge to help beat prostate cancer, which currently kills around 11,000 men every year across the UK. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and often has no symptoms, particularly in the early stages, making it more difficult to detect and diagnose. Danielle Howell, a partner in our clinical negligence team, explains why errors or delays with diagnosis can be such an issue for prostate cancer patients.

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer can develop when cells in the prostate start to grow in an uncontrolled way. Sometimes it grows too slowly to cause any problems or affect how long you live, and because of this, many men with prostate cancer will never need any treatment.

However, some prostate cancer grows quickly and is more likely to spread, causing additional problems and needing treatment to control it.

The statistics make for pretty sobering reading. 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer during their lifetime. And if you’re over 50, or you’re black or your dad or brother has had it, you’re at even higher risk. More than 47,500 men across the UK are diagnosed with it every year – that’s 129 men every day. This type of cancer is not always life-threatening but when it is, the earlier you catch it, the more likely it is to be cured, making early diagnosis crucial.

Encouragingly, around 400,000 men are currently living with and after prostate cancer. March the Month, which is being organised by the charity, Prostate Cancer UK, is encouraging participants to walk 11,000 steps every day to help the 11,000 men who die from the disease every year.

Late diagnosis is cause for concern

Back in 2018, a worrying trend had emerged, with four in 10 cases of prostate cancer in the UK being diagnosed late. The report by charity Orchid found that 37% of prostate cancer cases were diagnosed at stages three and four. It stated that 42% of prostate cancer patients saw their GP with symptoms twice or more before they were referred, with 6% seen five or more times prior to referral.

One of the difficulties with diagnosing prostate cancer is that in its early stages, it usually causes no symptoms, particularly when it’s contained inside the prostate. However, some men might have urinary problems that can be mild and can happen over many years, including difficulty starting to urinate or emptying their bladder, needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night, or a sudden need to go to the toilet.

If prostate cancer breaks out of the prostate or spreads to other parts of the body, it can cause other symptoms, including:

  • Back pain, hip pain or pelvis pain
  • Erectile problems
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Unexplained weight loss

Although it’s essential to see your GP if you have any of these symptoms, try not to panic too much as all of these symptoms could also be caused by non-cancerous health problems. If this is the case, your doctor can help you find out what is causing your symptoms.

Diagnosing prostate cancer

There is no way of knowing if you have prostate cancer without visiting your doctor. If you’re over 45, have a family history of prostate cancer or are a black man, it is advisable to speak to your GP even if you don’t have symptoms as these are all things that can increase your risk of getting it too.

If you visit your GP, you will probably be asked for a urine sample and blood sample and will have to have your prostate looked at through an internal examination. If you have a raised PSA (prostate specific antigen) level, you may be referred for an MRI scan and then potentially a biopsy to diagnose the cancer.

When diagnosed at its earliest stage, 100 percent of people with prostate cancer will survive their disease for five years or more. The good news is that prostate cancer survival is improving and has tripled in the last 40 years in the UK, largely because of PSA testing.

Unfortunately, however, due to the lack of symptoms, prostate cancer is not always diagnosed soon enough, or it is misdiagnosed in some other way. In many cases, doctors believe that patients are suffering from an enlarged prostate and nothing more, which allows the cancer to develop, untreated, making treatment less effective when the cancer is eventually diagnosed.

If you or a relative have experienced issues or delays in prostate cancer diagnosis, you may be entitled to compensation.

Positive breakthrough in prostate cancer treatment

In recent weeks, there have been reports of a breakthrough triple therapy for advanced prostate cancer that can give patients years more healthy life and reduces the overall risk of death by a third.

The new drug, darolutamide, has already proved effective as a standalone treatment in the earlier stages of the disease when given to men who have stopped responding to other medications. However, a pivotal trial has now shown that when combined with standard therapies, it also has a dramatic effect in patients whose cancer has spread through the body.

Although a cure is not possible for these men, using darolutamide, chemotherapy and other hormone medicines can reduce pain, slow the progression of the disease and extend survival.

Researchers at Imperial College London have also found this week that a new type of ultrasound scan can diagnose most prostate cancer cases with good accuracy after conducting a clinical trial. This could potentially mean a more efficient and cheaper way for the disease to be diagnosed at an early stage.

What to do if you are worried about prostate cancer

With any matter affecting your health, the sooner it is diagnosed, the higher the chances of successful treatment. If you have symptoms that are worrying you, don’t put off getting them checked out. The best place to get accurate health and information is the NHS website or from your local GP surgery.

Get in touch

At Harding Evans we have significant experience in representing clients with clinical negligence claims against the NHS or private institutions. If you or one of your relatives has prostate cancer that was misdiagnosed, and would like to speak to one of our legal experts, please get in touch on 01633 244233 or email hello@hevans.com for a no-obligation chat.

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