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Policy solutions for tackling prostate cancer – a disease of inequality

Bayer

Bayer | Bayer

6 min read Partner content

This prostate cancer awareness month, Bayer is calling on the Government to prioritise and address variations in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer that drive health inequalities.

This article has been initiated and funded by Bayer plc who are fully responsible for the content. The article will be reviewed in February 2026.

Record-high waiting lists and workforce shortages are placing significant pressure on cancer outcomes. A recent report from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) found that Britain’s progress in improving cancer survival rates is slower now than it has been for 50 years1. Cancer is rapidly becoming one of society’s greatest challenges – by 2040 the UK will have to care for around 500,000 new patients with cancer annually, a 30% increase from today2.

Prostate cancer is one of the cancers behind these startling figures, with an estimated 52,000 diagnoses per year3. It is the most common cancer in men, with 1 in 8 men estimated to get prostate cancer in their lifetime, rising to 1 in 4 Black men4.

Furthermore, prostate cancer survival rates vary significantly across the country. Research from Prostate Cancer UK found significant regional disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of men with prostate cancer, with 1 in 8 men in London diagnosed with metastatic (late-stage) disease, compared to 1 in 3 in Scotland5. There are also inequalities in men coming forward, by areas of deprivation and by ethnicity. A ‘one-size fits all’ approach does not work for prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment, as diverse groups will need varying levels of support, and currently there is no screening programme or surveillance in place6.

The longer-term outlook is significant, with prostate cancer estimated to become the most common type of cancer in the UK by 20407. With these projections, it is vital that prostate cancer receives a greater focus nationally to improve earlier detection, treatment, and outcomes for men.

image of man sat on examination tabel talking with his doctor

Some progress made, but more needs to be done

Commendable steps have been taken to improve prostate cancer diagnosis, driven largely via advocacy by patient groups. Last year, the Government announced plans for the ‘TRANSFORM’ trial, the biggest ever trial in prostate cancer screening8. TRANSFORM will use innovative screening methods, including MRI imaging and seeks to recruit hundreds of thousands of men across the country. The trial aims to recruit a minimum of 10% black men as participants, aged between 45 and 75 years old, as this group face inequalities in prostate cancer outcomes in particular9.

Importantly, the question regarding prostate cancer screening is to be considered again by the National Screening Committee in 202410, with the potential for new recommendations to increase the access and speed of screening.

Bayer welcomes the Government’s plans to appoint a Men’s Health Ambassador, acting as a champion and voice to address men’s health issues11. Given the enormity of the challenge prostate cancer presents, the Ambassador should have a specific responsibility for improving outcomes in prostate cancer care, alongside their wider portfolio.

These issues have also been raised by several MPs in Parliament. Nick Fletcher MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Issues Affecting Men and Boys, said “We need to vastly increase the number of men who are being screened and tested for prostate cancer. That means making tests far more accessible - based around where men actually go, not based on the convenience of the health system. 33 men are dying every day from prostate cancer12, and that is 33 men too many.”

While Bayer welcomes these steps, more needs to be done to improve prostate cancer outcomes in the short-term, particularly to tackle longstanding and pervasive health inequalities in men’s understanding of the symptoms, earlier diagnosis, and access to treatment.

The importance of innovation and policy guidance in tackling inequalities in prostate cancer

The expected publication of the Major Conditions Strategy provides the Government with an opportunity to set out how it intends to drive improving outcomes for the UK population, including cancer. Given prostate cancer’s prevalence amongst men and with the older population more likely to have multiple long term health conditions, it is imperative that there is a clear and bold strategy with recommendations for prostate cancer specifically – it is too big a health concern to be ignored.

From a treatment perspective, access to oncology medicines in the UK must be improved to improve outcomes for all patients. Alarming statistics show that despite the UK’s leading position as an innovator in pharmaceuticals, the NHS has been typically slower to introduce new medicines compared to other countries; with patients in France and Germany five times more likely to get access to new medicines than UK patients.13

Another report shows that far fewer patients are receiving NICE-recommended new cancer medicines in the UK compared to Germany, France, and the USA. Benchmarked against these countries, for every 100 patients receiving new treatments in France, Germany, and the USA, only 49, 44 and 8 UK patients would receive those treatments, respectively14.

Recognising these challenges, Bayer has taken action to support the development of treatment options and therefore greater choice for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. In 2022, Bayer worked with NHS England to fast-track approval of a treatment, working with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) to secure speedy approval through the Government’s ‘Project Orbis’ and ‘Innovative Licensing and Access Pathway’ (ILAP) process15. This meant that the NHS in England was the first health system in Europe to roll out this treatment, providing access to patients as early as possible16.

To drive policy change in prostate cancer outcomes, political will is required, alongside consensus and patient advocacy. This prostate cancer awareness month, Bayer is calling on the Government to prioritise prostate cancer and the associated health inequalities and provide a strategy that sets out how things will change for the thousands of men diagnosed each year.

This year, Bayer will be setting out its vision for addressing health inequalities in prostate cancer, from diagnosis, to addressing variation in treatment choices and application. We will be convening an expert roundtable including clinicians, policymakers, and patient groups to identify the underlying health inequalities in prostate cancer and set out key recommendations for prostate cancer policy.

Our ambition is to continue to work with the Government, NHS, and patient groups to see changes implemented to improve outcomes across the whole of the UK, ensuring patients get equitable access to diagnosis and treatment regardless of where they live or their backgrounds.

Job Bag Number: PP-PF-ONC-GB-0401

Date of article: March 2024


References

 

  1. https://news.sky.com/story/cancer-survival-progress-in-uk-slower-than-it-has-been-for-50-years-report-says-13061458, accessed February 2024.
  2. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(23)00511-9/abstract, accessed February 2024.
  3. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/prostate-cancer, accessed February 2024.
  4. Lloyd T, Hounsome L, Mehay A, Mee S, Verne J, Cooper A. Lifetime risk of being diagnosed with, or dying from, prostate cancer by major ethnic group in England 2008-2010. BMC Med. 2015 Jul 30; 13:171. doi: 10.1186/s12916-015-0405-5. PMID: 26224061; PMCID: PMC4520076. Accessed February 2024
  5. https://prostatecanceruk.org/about-us/news-and-views/2023/01/huge-north-south-divide-in-prostate-cancer-diagnoses#:~:text=In%20London%20just%201%20in,shown%20to%20be%20badly%20affected, accessed February 2024.
  6. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/prostate-cancer/getting-diagnosed/screening, accessed March 2024
  7. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/cancer_in_the_uk_report-overview-03.pdf?_gl=1%2A11rci0u%2A_gcl_au%2AMzE2MTU5MzQxLjE2OTQwMTU0NTY.%2A_ga%2AMTI5NDg3NTUzLjE2ODQxNDM3NTk.%2A_ga_58736Z2GNN%2AMTY5NDAxNTQ1Ni4xNi4xLjE2OTQwMTYwMTkuNDQuMC4w&_ga=2.112161284.1276119192.1694015456-129487553.1684143759, accessed February 2024.
  8. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-prostate-cancer-screening-trial-in-decades-to-start-in-uk, accessed February 2024.
  9. https://prostatecanceruk.org/research/transform-trial, accessed February 2024.
  10. https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2024-01-22.10938.h&s=prostate+cancer+screening, accessed February 2024.
  11. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-prostate-cancer-screening-trial-in-decades-to-start-in-uk, accessed February 2024.
  12. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/prostate-cancer#heading-One, accessed March 2024.
  13. Improving access to medicines in the UK (abpi.org.uk), accessed February 2024.
  14. https://phrma.org/-/media/Project/PhRMA/PhRMA-Org/PhRMA-Refresh/Report-PDFs/2023-11-20-Analysis-of-Access-Restrictions-for-New-Medicines-in-the-United-Kingdom.pdf, accessed February 2024.
  15. https://www.england.nhs.uk/2022/11/nhs-fast-tracks-life-extending-prostate-cancer-drug/, accessed February 2024.
  16. https://www.england.nhs.uk/2022/11/nhs-fast-tracks-life-extending-prostate-cancer-drug/, accessed February 2024.

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