Tag Archives: Prostate cancer

P is for…Prostate

PWhat’s a prostate for? It seems the prostate gland provides a lot of the fluid that makes up semen, and helps make semen alkaline. This is important because it neutralises the hostile acidity of the vaginal tract into which lucky sperm may enter, and prolongs their lucky little lifespans. It also seems that the prostate gland helps with ejaculation. So remember all that in case you ever forget why you should be prostate-proud, fellas.

However, as you get older, it seems to become a bit of a liability.

I’ve heard said (and seen read) that a healthy prostate gland is slightly larger than a walnut. A good old-fashioned digital rectal examination (it’s the doctor’s finger, nothing to do with a set-top box) will investigate the walnut-like qualities of your prostate, and if it is found wanting in that department you may be referred to a urologist for additional testing.

‘Additional testing’ unfortunately may still these days be rather unpleasant (as if the finger in the bum wasn’t bad enough), for example having a bunch of needle injections into your perineum. Each one takes a tiny amount of prostate gland tissue that is analysed for the presence of cancer.

There’s lots more useful information about prostate cancer at Prostate Cancer UK, which looks quite Movember-heavy at the moment. No surprises. As I’ve mentioned in a previous entry, there isn’t a routine screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK. I’ve now found out more on this, and it seems to be that routine screening may well do more harm than good. A problem with the diagnostic pathway described above is that men are too often found to have an enlarged prostate and get referred for the sort of unpleasant procedure described above, only to find no cancer. More on this later.

Some say that ‘milking’ the prostate can reduce your chances of later developing prostate cancer. Not for the faint-hearted: here’s a rather explicit article on Vice all about that subject. You have been warned.

Where I work, we run a few very interesting prostate cancer trials (I don’t mean to contrast that against some dull ones; they’re all good). In a nutshell:

  • STAMPEDE: best named trial I’ve ever heard of, and a real pioneer. It involves comparing a series of new prostate cancer treatments against a control arm of hormone therapy (a standard treatment in prostate cancer) on its own. Treatments can be dropped from the trial if they are shown not to be effective, and more arms can be added as new treatments become available. In this way the trial could in theory keep going for ever. One of the advantages of this approach is that several treatments can be evaluated in one trial, where setting up separate trials could take much more time and resource.
  • PATCH: investigates whether hormone therapy could be given via patches placed on the skin. This approach may reduce the risk of bone thinning associated with hormone therapy treatment. As the treatment with patches is still relatively new, PATCH is looking first at whether the patches are safe to be used.
  • RADICALS: some men with prostate cancer will have surgery to remove the cancer. The best post-surgery treatment for these men is not agreed, and RADICALS aims to find out an ideal combination of radiotherapy and hormone therapy for this population.
  • PROMIS: keeping in mind all that stuff I said above about unpleasant testing procedures, PROMIS is looking at the impact MRI scans could have on the testing procudure; whether they might remove the need for biopsies (the needles in the perineum) in some men, and facilitate better targeted biopsies in others.

P is also for…Penis

I couldn’t not, could I? Though I’ve said a lot already, so I’ll just link you somewhere else. Here’s a useful page on penile cancer, which is rare but should not be overlooked.

P is also for…Procrastination

Don’t delay, get your walnut checked out today!


Please feel free to donate to my Movember campaign – all donations very much appreciated!


N is for…Numbers

NStarting to sound a bit Old Testament, isn’t it? Just after Moviticus, if I remember correctly. And if we were compiling a similar holy book to document the saviour of men’s health (apologies if this analogy is too tenuous), we might be at a similar stage; we are no longer in darkness, but there is sin around, work to be done, and souls to save.

All that waffle aside, here are some stats for you:

  • Men have a 14% higher risk of developing cancer than women and a 37% higher risk of dying from it
  • Around 2,300 men in the UK were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010
  • In 2010 there were 75 deaths from testicular cancer in the UK
  • In 2010, 40,975 men in the UK were diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • In 2011 there were 10,793 deaths from prostate cancer in the UK
  • About 1 man in 6 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime
  • Suicide is the single most common cause of death in men under 35
  • A quarter of deaths of men under 34 can be attributed to alcohol
  • It took me about 7 minutes to compile these statistics

The most striking of all those (mainly gleaned from cancerresearchuk.org and movember.com) might well be that 75 men died of testicular cancer in the UK in 2010. All deaths from cancer are shocking, but the number might be lower than we’d expect. Testicular cancer is easier to detect than other cancers, and if caught early is curable. This highlights the problem with the idea of ‘a cure for cancer’; cancer isn’t really one thing, but many slightly different illnesses with a broadly similar mechanism. As research continues, and successful treatments discovered, we may find that, instead of a sudden eradication, cancers might be knocked down one by one. Slowly but surely.

N is also for…Nephew

My nephew Charlie (no pic, sorry, I wasn’t organised enough) is now just over 18 months old, and already a very charming fellow. Having another generation in the family (Charlie’s the third of that generation) does make everyone wonder what the world will be like when he’s our age. All sorts of wonderful and terrible things will have happened by then, no doubt, but we can hope that significant advances in healthcare will have been made for the benefit of everyone, and for men in particular, to address – or redress, maybe – some of those statistics listed above.

N is also for…Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei

…whose leader (apologies to Charlie, who will hopefully never again be so unfavourably juxtaposed) in early part of the twentieth century assisted, then subsequently obliterated, the popularity of the toothbrush moustache. Despite Richard Herring’s efforts, still not OK!


Please feel free to donate to my Movember campaign – all donations very much appreciated!

F is for…Father

Today I met my dad for lunch. It was slightly contrived: I probably wouldn’t have suggested it if the timesheet for the A-Z of Movember hadn’t screamed, “THE 6TH IS F!!! WHAT THE F YOU GONNA DO?!”

Nonetheless we had a nice time at Vasco e Pierro in Soho, eating pasta, tiramisu and affogato. Highly recommended. To the right you can see us outside, showing our affection the usual Cragg way.Image

Just like I did to my poor unsuspecting brother on Saturday, I lassoed the conversation and cattle-prodded it onto the topic of health. My dad is in his late 60s now, but is in good health. He used to have an annual health check for work when he was full-time, so he is familiar with the procedures involved in checking a man’s health (…yes, I do mean that…), but he hasn’t had the works done for a little while.

He has in the meantime been tested for colon cancer through the NHS’ routine screening programme. Thankfully it came out clear, and the story of the test was amusing, about specifically how you are instructed to provide your stool.

It seems there is no routine testing for prostate cancer as there is for colon cancer in older people, or for breast/cervical cancer in women. I’m pretty surprised about this, but I suppose there may be a good reason. I know people I can ask about this, and ask I may well. By the end of the conversation, I had managed to convince my dad to go get a health check (…yes, I do mean that…), or at least I made him agree that I could write that he would in this blog. Same difference.

My dad is also something of a veteran mo hero, though he keeps it quiet. Last time moustaches were properly in fashion (sometime when Graeme Souness was playing, I guess), my dad was cheerfully sporting the below:


I can but dream. I did ask him (about 60% joking) if he would take part in Movember this year, but he couldn’t due to a work commitment where looking silly just wouldn’t do.

F is also for…FOxTROT. I spoke to my dad again this evening, and heard some sad news. His friend of many years has recently been diagnosed with cancer of the colon. Luckily it has been caught early, and his character enables him to deal with it with the same dry humour with which he tackles everything else. Shocking nonetheless.

He has accepted the chance, as a lot of people do these days, of joining a clinical trial. Trials offer people the chance of receiving treatments otherwise unavailable, on the proviso that they may not actually help more than current standard treatment. If the new treatments turn out to be the gold standard of the future, however, they will have benefited early.

I’m proud to work in clinical trials. It’s a slog, and just like any job it can feel a bit like drudgery at times, but it is rewarding to remember what we’re contributing towards: better treatments and better outcomes for unwell people. FOxTROT, like a new colon cancer trial I work with called FOCUS4, involves genetic testing before trial entry. The success or failure of certain treatments is linked to people’s genes, and we know more about this phenomenon in colon cancer than in some other cancers. This pre-treatment testing and sorting of people is part of the field known as personalised medicine, and is well worth reading up on, as it will only become more common as time goes on.

Finally, F is also for…Fanuary. Another antipodean invention (I think), slightly more divisive than Movember, and slightly more complicated to back up with a daily picture. Certainly on Facebook, anyway.


Please feel free to donate to my Movember campaign – all donations very much appreciated!

B is for…Brother

BHere I am with Tom, my bro. Sorry the picture is quite so dark. He is AKA Broseph or simply Brother (in a scottish accent like the guy from Lost), but he is not AKA MoBro, for, unlike me, he has no intention of growing a moustache any time soon. He seems fairly mophobic actually, but at least he is still willing to see me, despite my presumably abhorrent penchant for facial hair. I appreciate that.

I have caught up with him today, and in amongst all the usual hilarious nonsense I managed to shoehorn in a conversation about men’s health, as this is sort of my mini-mission for a little while.

Tom is in his thirties, exercises regularly, doesn’t drink that much, and doesn’t smoke at all. He admits to enjoying his food, but I’m pretty sure that’s surely a strength not a fault. Last year he became a father (and a very good one at that) and I can imagine that would make a person look after themselves better, knowing that they have to be responsible for the wellbeing of another person. He has a strong, loving family around him, and I’m sure that makes him much more likely take his health seriously, and more likely to feel comfortable about discussing his health. I hope so. He does wonder whether he should get his prostate checked, but I told him not to worry at his age (according to what I’ve been told). Otherwise he’s doing pretty well! Better than me after last night’s antics, in any case.

We agreed that for the majority of men, talking about their health (and acting to improve it) wasn’t really so far out of reach, but that they just needed a little nudge to make that step to do it. Hopefully conversations like the one we had can do that nudging, and are taking place right now thanks to Movember.