Viewpoint: Government launches first Be Clear on Cancer pilot for prostate cancer

A new five-week pilot of the government's Be Clear on Cancer Campaign started in six London boroughs in October to raise awareness of prostate cancer risk in black men, writes Professor Mike Kirby, GP and visiting professor to the Prostate Centre London.

Prof Kirby: 'Pilot is making sure more black men aware of higher than average risk.'
Prof Kirby: 'Pilot is making sure more black men aware of higher than average risk.'

The primary call to action is to encourage black men over the age of 45 to wise up to their risk of prostate cancer and speak to their GP about it.

Prostate cancer is a huge health concern in the UK, with over 10,000 men losing their lives to the disease every year. Alarmingly one in four black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime – double the one in eight risk faced by all men in the UK.

Black men are also more likely to be diagnosed with the disease on average five years earlier than white men. However, according to national health charity, Prostate Cancer UK, 90 per cent of black men are unaware that they’re at a higher than average risk of developing the disease. Awareness is the first step to diagnosis but it’s clear that the message about prostate cancer simply isn’t getting out to this vulnerable group. A situation that cannot be ignored by public health authorities and primary care professionals.

Early stage prostate cancer is often symptomless and can present at an incurable stage

In an effort to address the status quo, over the last few weeks a series of posters advertising the one in four black men statistic have been plastered throughout the London boroughs of Newham, Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth, Hackney and Haringey.

These boroughs all have a high black male population and a higher than average incidence rate of prostate cancer compared with England as a whole. As well as the poster advertising there has been radio advertising, events to reach black men in their community at barbershops and hair salons and a ‘street team’ of volunteers handing out information booklets and pocket guides. A host of high profile names have also pledged their support to the campaign, including EastEnders actor Rudolph Walker and former England international footballer Les Ferdinand.

To date, government health awareness initiatives have been based on awareness of physical symptoms, however early stage prostate cancer is often symptomless and can present at an incurable stage.

By shifting the focus to a critical risk factor, this latest Be Clear on Cancer pilot is making a tremendous step towards making sure more black men are aware of their higher than average risk and are empowered to speak to their doctor about what options are available to them. Anecdotally we know that in the past the black community has been notoriously difficult to communicate health messages to and black men in particular are often reluctant to visit their doctor. As GPs we should be asking ourselves what more we can do to further raise the issue about prostate health with the black community.

If a black man over 45 presents at your surgery, it’s an opportunity to initiate a conversation about prostate cancer and their potential vulnerability to the disease. It’s important to enquire about any family history and ask about any lower urinary tract symptoms together with any sexual dysfunction. It is also vital to remind them that the PSA test is available and can help to detect early disease. If they are uncertain about the pros and cons of the test, they can be directed to Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses or the charity’s website for further information.

If this campaign is successful, I would like to see the model developed in other areas of the country with large black populations, to help us ensure that every black man in the country knows his risk, and has the opportunity to address it.

  • Prostate Cancer UK provides a range of support and information for healthcare professionals working with men affected by prostate disease. Contact a Prostate Cancer UK Specialist Nurse on 0800 074 8383 or visit www.prostatecanceruk.org/health-professionals for further information.

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