British men lack a basic understanding of their prostate cancer risk, despite it being the cancer they are most likely to get.
Research by male cancer campaign, Everyman, found that nearly three quarters of men surveyed were unable to name age, family history or race as the top risk factors for prostate cancer, while a quarter admitted having no knowledge of any risk factors.
A third of respondents wrongly believed that drinking alcohol and smoking were the main factors related to an increased risk of getting the disease.
After age, family history is one of the strongest risk factors for prostate cancer, yet more than half (54%) of those surveyed admitted they had not considered what diseases they were more likely to get as a result of their family’s medical background.
Everyman is a campaign run by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) to raise funds for prostate and testicular cancer research. The ICR is currently undertaking a study to determine whether family history and genetic profiling can be used to find men at higher risk of prostate cancer, so they can be targeted for screening.
Professor Ros Eeles from the ICR said: "The PROFILE* study follows years of research into prostate cancer risk factors, including the discovery of 31 genetic variants that predispose to the disease, and the recognition that family history substantially increases men’s chances of developing the disease.
"This study will show us whether we have enough knowledge about prostate cancer genetics to find men at higher risk of the disease, and whether we should therefore start screening these men.
"Screening men at higher risk could potentially lead to earlier diagnoses, which would improve their chances of cure," Professor Eeles said.
Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) testing is the only tool currently available to screen men for prostate cancer, but it carries a significant risk of over-diagnosis and over-treatment for men who would not otherwise need it.
However, these risks may be less significant in men at higher risk of the disease, so ICR scientists are looking for a way to identify this group.
Minister of State for Care Services, Paul Burstow, said: "Identifying prostate cancer sooner can mean better health outcomes. If men are at all worried, especially if they are black, have prostate cancer in the family or notice changes when they urinate, they should discuss with their GP the potential benefits of a PSA test.
"Early diagnosis is a major priority in the Government's Cancer Strategy and will be central to achieving our aim to save at least five thousand extra lives a year from cancer. I fully support Everyman's efforts to raise men's awareness of prostate cancer," said Mr Burstow.
The survey, conducted for Everyman’s Male Cancer Awareness Month, also showed a general lack of awareness around the number of men prostate cancer kills each year, with nearly two thirds underestimating the figure of 10,000 by four times or more.
Alarmingly, nearly half (46%) of respondents could not answer correctly where the prostate was, while only one in ten knew the prostate’s main function.
The Shadow Minister for Public Health, Diane Abbott, commented on the study: "It is significant that men know so little about these issues and the government needs to give more thought to how and where they target public awareness campaigns in order to reach men.
"We must improve awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer among the public and GPs. Improved services in primary care are essential, and those men affected must be referred to hospital specialists sooner and begin treatment earlier," said Ms Abbott.
* The PROFILE study will eventually be conducted in three centres - London, Oxford and Cambridge - but is now only open in London. Men aged between 40 and 69 with a family history of prostate cancer are invited to participate.